Cherry Blossoms

Today in History, March 27, 1912:

First Lady Helen Taft and the wife of the Japanese Ambassador, Viscountess Chinda, plant two Cherry Blossom trees along the Potomac near the Jefferson Memorial.

They were part of 3,020 Cherry Blossom trees given to the US by the Japanese to be planted in DC. The city of Tokyo had actually given 2,000 trees in 1910, but they were diseased by the time they reached the US and could not be used.

A private Japanese citizen then paid to have the 3,020 trees sent in their place. The beautiful trees bloom each Spring, and are the subject of festivals.

The trees came from a famous collection in Tokyo, which was mostly destroyed during bombing in WWII. After the war, the US sent cuttings from DC’s trees to replenish the Tokyo collection from whence they came.

“You May Cast Off, Buck, When You Are Ready.”

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Today in History, March 11, 1942:

General Douglas MacArthur is evacuated from the Philippines at the order of President Franklin Roosevelt.  At the beginning of WWII the previous December the Japanese had invaded the Philippines; the American and Filipino forces, commanded by MacArthur, had been fighting off persistent advances ever since.  At the outset the American air forces had been almost completely destroyed on the ground, caught by surprise by the initial attacks.  Now they had been backed up to the peninsula of Bataan, and in the middle of the bay, the island of Corregidor.

General MacArthur was already quite famous when the war began; his father Arthur was also a noted American general, Douglas served in WWI and was in command in Washington, DC when protesting WWI veterans were dispersed during the Depression.  He and his father would become the first father and son to be awarded the Medal of Honor.

American morale was already suffering, and the President did not want an additional blow of MacArthur being taken prisoner when the Philippines fell, which was a foregone conclusion at this point.  So he ordered MacArthur to evacuate to Australia, leaving General Jonathan Wainwright in command of the fall.

MacArthur had the choice to leave by submarine, aircraft, or by PT (patrol torpedo) boat.  He knew and trusted the commander of PT squadron 3, Lieutenant John D. Bulkeley, so he chose to leave by boat.

On the evening of March 11, 1942, Lt. Bulkeley’s PT-41 was alongside the north pier at Corregidor with General MacArthur and his family aboard, when the General looked to the Lieutenant and said, “You may cast off, Buck, when you are ready.”  Thus began a 600 mile run to Mindanao through minefields and enemy infested waters which MacArthur would later liken to a ride in a cement mixer.  Almost everyone was seasick.  Bulkeley would meet up with the remainder of his PT squadron, their decks filled with gasoline drums so they could make the trip.  It was a harrowing journey; from Mindanao MacArthur and his staff would continue the journey by air.

The journey, how it came to be, and it’s aftermath are all worth more detail.  But for this post, I can’t help but focus on MacArthur’s words as he set sail from his defeat in Manila Bay…

“You may cast off, Buck, when you are ready.”

General MacArthur was an intelligent, educated man, a West Point graduate and a fast climber through the ranks.  What was in his mind as he escaped one of the worst military defeats in American history that day?  The MacArthur family was also already a significant part of Philippine history.  Nearly forty-four years earlier, in 1898 during the Spanish-American War, Arthur MacArthur had been victorious during the Battle of Manila.  He would then command during the Philippine-American War and become the Military Governor General of the Philippines until he got sideways when the Civilian Governor of the Philippines, William Howard Taft.

At the outset of the Spanish-American War, the Philippines were a Spanish possession.  The war was significant because with it, America would become a player on the world stage, defeating one of the European colonial powers.

With the Battle of Manila Bay on May 1, 1898, the US Navy would show it’s mettle in easily defeating the Spanish fleet stationed there.  Admiral George Dewey commanded the US Asiatic Fleet from the bridge of his flagship, the USS Olympia.  As they approached the Spanish ships, Dewey spoke a now famous phrase to the commander of the Olympia, Captain Charles Gridley…

“You may fire when ready, Gridley.”

To enter Manila Bay from the South China Sea, Admiral Dewey and his fleet would have sailed past the island which guarded the entrance to the bay, Corregidor.  Hours before his famous victory, Admiral Dewey would have sailed within a few hundred yards of where MacArthur would stand in 1942, having lost all Dewey had gained.  In his mind’s eye, was he watching the Olympia pass by?

“You may cast off, Buck, when you are ready.”

Remember The Alamo! Remember The Maine! Remember Pearl Harbor! REMEMBER SANTA BARBARA!!

Today in History, February 23, 1942:

A little over two months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Japanese Imperial Navy submarine I-17 surfaces 1500 yards off the California coast, near Santa Barbara. Five crewmen scrambled out onto the deck and manned the boat’s deck gun.

Workers and residents on shore were confused and surprised when they figured out the booms and explosions they were hearing at an oil field in Ellwood were tied to the flashes they were seeing out at sea.

After 20 minutes the Captain ordered a hault to the assault, having missed the oil tanks and damaged a catwalk.

The relatively minor attack was the first time the Continental US had been bombarded since the War of 1812.

It dis have an effect on a populace already on edge. On the 25th, “enemy aircraft” would be sighted near LA, resulting in lengthy anti-aircraft fire which would be dubbed the “Battle of Los Angeles”.

It would also help speed the incarceration of Japanese-Americans, since many believed the assault had been assisted from shore by Japanese operatives.

It also would not be the last time the mainland was bombarded by the Japanese..more submarine attacks, an aircraft launched from a submarine and “balloon bombs” would be in the offing…all relatively unsuccessful.

“Before We’re Through With ‘em, the Japanese Language Will be Spoken Only in Hell!” -Adm. William F. Halsey

Today in History, December 8: 1941 –

The US Navy Task Force focused around the USS Enterprise (CV-6) aircraft carrier, short on supplies and fuel, enters Pearl Harbor in the dark of night to re-provision as quickly as possible. Uncertainty reigns; nobody knows if the surprise attack by Japanese aircraft was the precursor to an invasion…

The men of the Task Force are horrified by the destruction they are witnessing; mighty ships they had seen just days before lay smoldering and efforts to rescue untold numbers of their friends trapped in the ships were ongoing. The stench of burning oil and bodies permeates the night air.

The commander of the Task Force, Vice Admiral William Halsey observes the carnage from the bridge of the Enterprise and angrily utters one of what will be many memorable quotes from him during the war, “Before we’re through with ’em, the Japanese language will be spoken only in hell!”

Today, of course, Japan is one of our closest and most faithful allies. But on December 8, 1941, and for years to come, the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor and other allied basis left no room for anything but battle.

Pearl Harbor…An Unmitigated Failure for Japan

Today in History, December 7: 1941 –

Did you know that the Japanese surprise attack on the bases at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii was…a tremendous failure? In spite of the horrific losses in lives and the loss of combatant ships and aircraft, the Japanese Task Force missed their primary targets. The battleships and most of the aircraft they destroyed were obsolete…and they knew it.

They were after the American aircraft carriers, which they recognized as the next generation capital ships. Their intelligence was that the American carriers were in port at their berths, but the Kawanishi flying boat that provided that info couldn’t catch that the carriers left soon after it’s recon mission.

The Japanese aircraft failed to destroy the dry dock facilities at Pearl…allowing the repair of many of the ships damaged during the attack, and importantly, the USS Yorktown after the Battle of the Coral Sea, allowing her to take part in the tide-turning Battle of Midway.

And due to Admiral Nagumo’s decision to cancel another sortee, the attack failed to destroy or damage the fuel storage depot at Pearl. Had they done so, the entire fleet would have been forced to retreat the 2500 miles to San Diego (if they could make it there). The US fleet could not have operated from Pearl for nearly a year if they had lost that fuel depot. So while the attack was a flashy victory for the Empire, it was a tactical loss. America’s industrial capacity quickly replaced the losses. God bless our heroes that lost their lives that day.

What was supposed to be the backbone of the US Pacific Fleet, several Battleships, were either completely destroyed or so badly damaged that it would take years before they could put to sea again. the Arizona was virtually blown apart by a direct hit that ignited her magazines (her ammunition stores); the Oklahoma rolled over and capsized; only one of the behemoths managed to get steam up and make a run for the sea. But her commander wisely beached her, fearful that she might be sunk in the channel and put the entire harbor out of commission for months.

The Army commander, more worried about sabotage than air attacks, had ordered all of the Army Air Corps’ aircraft lined up wingtip to wingtip so they could be more easily guarded. They made easy targets for strafing Japanese fighters. Only two Army fighters made it into the air to do battle with the enemy (my father grew up with one of the pilots).

Battle Order #1

Today in History, November 28: 1941 –

Ten days before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, a Task Force built around the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CV-6) sailed from Pearl Harbor bound for Wake Island.

In response to a “war warning” the Enterprise had taken aboard a squadron of US Marine F4F Wildcat fighter planes and their pilots, with orders to deliver them to Wake to bolster the island’s defenses.

Once they were at sea, the TF commander, Admiral William F. (Bull) Halsey signed off on Battle Order #1, which put the Enterprise and her supporting Cruisers and Destroyers on a war footing.

The crew began adding armor behind the pilot’s position’s in the ship’s fighters, painting them in combat colors, and arming them for combat.

More than a week before the Japanese attacked, the Enterprise TF had orders to shoot first and ask questions later should they encounter any foreign ships or planes. The CAP (Combat Air Patrol) kept watch overhead.

The Big E would deliver the Marines and return to Pearl on Sunday, December 7. Her scout plane pilots would fly ahead, ending up right in the middle of the air raid. But that’s another story.

But on this date, Admiral Halsey and Captain Murray closed by telling their sailors “Steady nerves and stout hearts are needed now.”


Today in History, August 14: 1945 – How long did WWII last? The August Revolution. On the day that the Japanese formally surrendered to the Allies aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay, Japanese officials in Vietnam turned over government buildings to Ho Chi Minh and the Communist Viet Minh, in defiance of the peace terms. There would be a temporary peace as the Viet Minh “attempted” to work with the British and French occupation forces of “French Indo-China”. There were Chinese occupation forces also. None of this would last, and the Japanese actions contributed to the eventual First Indo-China War. Thirty years later, after much blood and sacrifice by both French and American soldiers, sailors and airmen, the Vietnam War would finally end.