Un fathomable

Today in History, August 18, 1931:

The Yangtze River in China floods. Either directly or indirectly through starvation, 3.2 MILLION people die as a result.

That is more than every man, woman and child in the state of Oklahoma due to one natural disaster.

And the flood was only the beginning of China’s troubles in the 30’s. The war with Japan would take millions more lives.

Historic Connections: Lincoln-Hay-Roosevelt

Today in History, March 4: 1861 (Lincoln Inauguration) / 1905 (Theodore Roosevelt Inauguration) – A very special connection between two Presidents, 40 years apart. As a young man in Illinois, John Hay got the chance of a lifetime. His friend John Nicolay was working at the law firm of Abraham Lincoln, Presidential candidate. When Lincoln was elected, Hay and Nicolay became his private secretaries in the Executive Mansion and became his confidants…he would stay up nights sharing stories with them and came to trust them; they helped to keep him balanced through the trials and tragedies of the Civil War. They, in turn nearly idolized him, referring to him as the Ancient One. When Lincoln was assassinated it devastated Hay. He recovered and went on to serve in numerous posts within the government, including the Ambassador to the Court of St. James (England); he was a successful author and journalist (remarkably understated..but I must keep this somewhat brief). He served several other presidents, becoming Secretary of State for President William McKinley. When McKinley was assassinated, Hay stayed on to serve in Theodore Roosevelt’s administration. He was largely responsible for the Open Door Policy in China and negotiated the Hay–Bunau-Varilla Treaty to build the Panama Canal. He initially thought TR a rogue cowboy, but as he grew to respect the President, they became fast friends. TR came to respect Hay’s experience and wisdom, and came to depend upon him. The night before TR was to be inaugurated for his second term, his first in which he was elected, John Hay sent TR a gift. A ring containing a strand of President Lincoln’s hair under glass, taken during his autopsy. Hay included a note:

“Dear Theodore:

The hair in this ring is from the head of Abraham Lincoln. Dr. Taft cut it off the night of the assassination, and I got it from his son-a brief pedigress.

Please wear it tomorrow; you are one of the men who most thoroughly understand and appreciate Lincoln.

I have had your mongram and Lincoln’s engraved on the ring.

Longas, O utiman, bone dux, ferias, Praestes Hesperia.

(Mayest thou, Good Captain, give long holiday to Hesperia!)

Yours affectionately, John Hay”

TR replied:

“Dear John, Surely no other President, on the eve of his inauguration, has ever received such a gift from such a friend. I am wearing the ring now; I shall think of it and you as I take the oath tomorrow. I wonder if you have any idea what your strength and wisdom and sympathy, what the guidance you have given me and the mere delight in your companionship, have meant to me these three and a half years?

With love and gratitude, Ever yours….”

What a life! A integral part of the story of two of our best presidents, and a key player in numerous historic decisions and events. Aside from the photos of the ring, there are photos of Hay in his youth, as an older man (he would die later in 1905), and even the photo of Lincoln’s funeral procession through New York City is important…in a window of one of the buildings to the left are two small boys watching the procession go by…young Theodore Roosevelt, Jr and his brother Elliott.

Flying Tigers Enter Combat


Today in History, December 20: 1941 –

Nearly two weeks after the surprise attack by the Japanese Navy on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, the First American Volunteer Group (AVG) enters combat for the first time in defense of Kunming from Japanese Air Force bombers.

The AVG was made up of pilots and air crews who were allowed to resign their positions in the USAAF, US Navy and US Marines before the US entered World War II in order to fly for the Nationalist Chinese Air Force defending the Burma Road…China’s primary access to military supplies.  The AVG members had been recruited by a retired USAAF officer, Claire Chennault, who had been training and supervising Chinese flyers for Chinese leader Chiang Kai-Shek since the 1930’s.  The covert program had begun in April 1941, and by the time the AVG’s pilots, crews and their Curtiss P-40 Tomahawk fighter aircraft had arrived in Asia and trained, the US had entered the war.

In their first combat the Flying Tigers destroyed 5 of the attacking bombers.  In the coming months they destroyed nearly 300 Japanese aircraft with a loss of 14 of their own aircraft.  In the dark months after Pearl Harbor the Japanese were “sweeping the table” across the Pacific, and the victories of the small Flying Tigers units provided much needed morale boosters for the Allied powers.  In July of 1942, after little more than six months, the unit would be absorbed into USAAF units in the Asian theater of operations.  Most of the pilots returned to US service, including “Tex” Hill and Gregory “Pappy” Boyington.

The China Clipper Adventure

Today in History, November 22:

A Martin M-130 flying boat owned by Pan American Airways takes off from San Francisco, flies under the yet to be completed San Francisco Bridge on it’s way to the Orient.

With this the China Clipper inaugurated commercial air service via Hawaii, Midway, Wake Island, Guam to the Philippines. If you had the money, a romantic 7 day trip across the Pacific Ocean was now possible.

Gunboat Diplomacy

Today in History, March 24: 1927 – Gunboat Diplomacy. Chinese nationalists and communists had been struggling for control of the country. When the fight reached Nanking (Nanjing), the nationalist forces left the city. The communist soldiers that entered the city raided the consulates of western nations there; British and American citizens were injured and some killed. All of the western nations that had commercial interests in China had a Naval presence in the region. In response to the assaults, the Royal Navy and the United States Navy vessels on the Yangtze fired on the soldiers and civilians sacking the western sections of the city, driving them away. Marines evacuated the western civilians to ships that were then escorted out of the area. In the process, the escorting ships, mostly the USS William B. Preston, had to suppress fire from the shore several times. The Nationalist forces eventually took back the city. By the next year the government had apologized for the incident and the communist forces agreed to pay reparations.