The Ship That Would Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night

Today in History, July 31, 1948:

The USS Nevada was the first “dreadnaught” or battleship, to use oil rather than coal for fuel, the first to use the later standard 3 main gun turrets.

Commissioned in 1914, she would serve in WWI and WWII. At Pearl Harbor, she was the only battleship on “battleship row” to get underway. Her executive officer, who was in charge in the Captain’s absence, made the wise decision to beach her at Hospital Point, as she had taken six bombs and a torpedo; had he continued his attempt to gain the sea, the massive ship could have sunk in the channel leading to the harbor, trapping other ships either in or out of Pearl Harbor.

She would be repaired and would serve in both the Atlantic and Pacific Theaters, at Normandy and Okinawa.

One of these photos shows her with the only remaining battleship to have served in both WWI and WWII, the USS Texas (visit her in Houston).

The obsolete warrior would be used for atomic testing at Bikini Atoll, being the subject of two atomic bomb tests.

She still would not quit, and had to be sunk with aerial torpedoes. Her only sister ship was not so fortunate. The USS Oklahoma capsized at Pearl Harbor, then sank while being towed back to the states for repair.

Just this year, the Nevada was located 65 miles southwest of Pearl Harbor on the ocean floor.

General of the Army of the United States

Today in History, July 25, 1866:

Congress creates the new rank of “General of the Army of the United States” specifically for the US Army’s commanding general, Ulysses S. Grant.

Typical of Grant’s unpretentious nature, he chose to signify the honor with a simple 4 star should board on his basic uniform.

Grant would hold the rank until elected President, at which time he was succeeded by William Tecumseh Sherman, who was succeeded by Phillip Sheridan. The rank died when Sheridan did in 1888, until WWII, when it was signified with 5 stars.

Sagamore Hill

TODAY IN HISTORY, JULY 17, 1962:

Congress votes to preserve the birthplace of President Theodore Roosevelt, as well as his home in Oyster Bay, New York: Sagamore Hill.

Sagamore Hill was known as the eastern White House when TR was there, and he hosted many dignitaries there, including when he negotiated a peace treaty ending the Russo-Japanese War, for which he received the Nobel Peace Prize (when it still meant something).

Sagamore Hill was like a recharging device for TR. Whether recovering from tragedies, exhausted by his frenetic work pace or laid low by his health problems, a few days at Sagamore Hill and he was up to speed and ready to go again.

I got to visit Sagamore Hill this year, checking it off of my bucket list. It was fascinating.

Carpathia Makes History Again & Again

Today in History: July 17, 1918:

The RMS Carpathia, famous for having rushed through the night to rescue the survivors of the RMS Titanic disaster in 1912, was carrying out her duties as a WWI troop ship when she was torpedoed by U-Boat 55 and sank.

She lost all but 5 of her passengers before her survivors were rescued by the sloop HMS Snowdrop.

As an aside, one of the many Doughboys the Carpathia brought to Europe to fight the Hun was a young Frank Woodruff Buckles, a Missouri boy who when he died in 2011 at age 110, was the last American WWI veteran.

Sam Finishes his Book

Today in History, July 16, 1885:

Raison D’etre – Sam finishes his book.

Sam had led a bit of a rough life. He saw great success, no doubt, but he was also an alcoholic. His father struggled with the demon for a time, and his grandfather had succumbed to it. In those days they didn’t realize it was often a family trait or a disease…it was simply a weakness. Sam had fought the demon his entire adult life. He was brilliant at is chosen profession. He quit it for a time because of his drinking and tried other jobs…farmer, realtor, shopkeeper…none worked out. As brilliant as he was, he had another weakness; he had a big heart and was much to quick to trust people with his money. So Sam spent most of his life broke.

Even with this, events in his life led him in a round about way to the pinnacle of success. He succeeded where others failed miserably due to his tenacity, his organizational skills and his ability to see the big picture. Yet through it all, no matter how much he achieved, his detractors never forgot, and certainly never let him forget, his demons.

Sam had made his fortune at last…but then, in his older years when there was little to no chance of building success anew, his other failure reared its ugly head again. The people he trusted with his money were scoundrels, and he found himself…and more importantly to him, his family, destitute once again.

Living on borrowed money, things got worse. One day while eating a peach his wife had given him, he felt as if he had been stung by something within it. He had no time for doctors and stubbornly toiled for months until the pain was unbearable to relent to his wife’s demands to see his physician. By then, it was too late. The mouth and throat cancer was advanced, and all that could be done was to provide him with pain killers until the end would come.

Sam’s father had been an inveterate braggart, a schemer and an incessant talker. It embarrassed Sam so that he became the exact opposite. Quiet and humble to a fault, it took everything he had to do what he had refused for years…to blow his own horn and tell his own story. But now it was the only way he could leave his wife and children with a means of support. So he threw himself into the task.

For over a year he wrote. He wore a muffler to cover the baseball sized tumor at his throat. Typical of his demeanor, he never complained of the excruciating pain that wracked him day and night…his family only saw him grimace from the pain when he was asleep and unable to hide it.

Sam worked with a purpose…he amazed his publisher by finishing 10,000 words in a day, written out. Mark couldn’t believe it…Mark was one of the most prolific story-telling authors of his time, and could never match Sam, who disliked the task of telling his own story. But now he had to…for his family…for his legacy because his old detractors were only too happy to repeat their own refrain, “See, we told you so.”

Fighting past the pain and past the fog of his medications, he toiled even when he could no longer write, and tortured himself to dictate his story to others.

Finally on July 16, 1885, Sam completed his autobiography. Mark had promised to publish it for a handsome price which would see to it that Sam’s family did not want for anything. It was suspected that Mark had ghostwritten the work…which he adamantly and angrily denied. His friend Sam had written the work…brilliant and surprising as usual.

Having won his last battle, he could let go now. Seven days later on July 23, 1885, Hiram Ulysses Grant, “U.S. Grant” due to an Army administrator’s error in his youth, Sam to his friends, a drunk to his detractors, an amazing horseman and hero of the Mexican-American War, General of the Army and President of the United States, passed from this earth.

Mark Twain saw that “The Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant” was published and the family was treated fairly and well. Sam had found someone trustworthy this time. I’ve read General Grant’s memoirs, and they would be impressive if written by someone in perfect health. They are nothing less that heroic considering the suffering he endured during his final work.

I am fortunate to have what appears to be a 1st Edition of volume 1. Would love to find the matching volume 2! I’ve listened to the audible book.

Quentin Roosevelt Shot Down

TODAY IN HISTORY, JULY 14, 1918:

US Airman Quentin Roosevelt, youngest son of President Theodore Roosevelt, dies when he is shot down over France in WWI.

He and his brothers, who all served in WWI were very competitive in the voracity of their service, trying to live up to their father’s exploits…a father who also wanted to serve but was refused due to President Wilson’s fear that TR’s service might lead to a run for President in 1920. TR wouldn’t live that long…and he spent his last years heartbroken over the loss of his youngest son.

TR Jr. would die of a heart attack just weeks after leading his division in the Normandy invasion of 1944…again living up to his father’s legacy. A family of immense wealth; several generations of which dedicated their lives to service to their country.

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.