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.

Evil Personified; Perseverance Exemplified

Today in History, April 11, 1945:

“To the Allies. To the army of General Patton. This is the Buchenwald concentration camp.

SOS.

We request help. They want to evacuate us. The SS wants to destroy us.”

The Allies were driving across Europe, and as a result, the German War Machine was in panic. When the Russians overtook concentration camps on their front, the Germans “evacuated” thousands of Jews, Gypsies and prisoners of war to their second largest concentration camp, Buchenwald, Germany.

Buchenwald had housed slave labor, and murdered thousands, since 1937. EIGHT interminable years of forced labor, torture, rape, experiments on human beings.

Now when the Americans approached Buchenwald, the SS planned to “evacuate” the prisoners there, and destroy the camp to destroy the evidence.

The hundreds of thousands of prisoners were…evidence.

The prisoners had managed to construct a makeshift transmitter and sent the above message in several different languages in desperation.

After years of no hope, of unimaginable horrors….they received a reply, “KZ Bu. Hold out. RUSHING TO YOUR AID. Staff of Third Army.” The prisoner who had risked his life to send the plea for assistance…fainted.

Emboldened, several prisoners who were able, charged the machine gun towers surrounding them and took control of the main camp (there were several satellite camps).

On April 11 elements of the US 9th Armored Infantry Battalion, U.S. 6th Armored Division, US Third Army (Patton’s Army) entered Buchenwald and liberated it.

US Army commanders ordered the Mayor and citizens of the nearby towns to provide food for the starving prisoners until US supplies could arrive.

Reportedly Patton ordered that the citizens of nearby towns, who had known of the atrocities but remained silent, to tour the camps that included stack after stack after stack of bone thin bodies. A lesson?

Each generation thinks that they have “progressed” beyond such inhumanity. It is a delusion. As long as man exists, evil will exist. It must be recognized and guarded against.

A Kamikaze Over London!

Today in History, April 9, 1937:

A Kamikaze in….London. In the 1930’s most nations were attempting to set aircraft range records…for the sake of doing so and for military purposes.

The Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun sponsored the flight of the “Kamikaze-Go”, a long range reconnaissance aircraft from Tokyo to London in honor of the coronation of King George VI.

Arriving at it’s destination in a little over 51 hours, the aircraft was greeted in London by cheering crowds. It’s pilot, Masaaki Iinuma, became a Japanese national hero, hailed as the Japanese Lindbergh.

He and his navigator, Kenji Tsukagoshi would both be killed during WWII, the aircraft would crash, be recovered, and placed in a museum which would be destroyed by bombing in WWII. The aircraft type would be used as a long range recon plane during the war. The whole thing began as the Japanese designed aircraft that could reach their far-ranging territories.

“Carrier Combat” by Lt. Frederick Mears

I wanted to read this book because Lt. Mears served in Torpedo 8 aboard the carrier Hornet at Midway. I have no indication at this point that we are directly related. The book is a first edition and has a note written by a relative. Boy does that appear to be a minimization.

Follow-up:

First, Lt. Mears’ account of his combat service covers not only Midway, but the USS Entrrprise and Guadalcanal. His matter of fact prose described the conditions there. He pays homage to his comrades who were shot down or went down with their ships, and writes about his buddies who got to go home with him on leave. That is where the book stops; not because he intended it to, but because those buddies would be attending HIS funeral. Read the last page of the book, which I have included.

The book does not describe it, but online research indicated he died in an aircraft accident while flying out of the San Diego Naval Air Station in June of 1943.

The book was published with an admonition to “Buy War Bonds.”

There is much more. I had difficulty reading the “relative’s” handwriting. However my online research put it together.

The note is written gifting the book to someone on the event of another person coming home from the war in September, 1945, in honor of Freddy, who won’t be coming back.

My research indicated Lt. Mears’ parents were Colonel Frederick Mears II and Jane Wainright Mears.

Colonel Mears served the Army on the frontier, in WWI, and was instrumental as an Army Engineer in the construction of the Alaska Railway. After retirement he continued on with the railroad. He died in 1939 of natural causes.

Mrs. Jane Mears was apparently a big deal in Anchorage, Alaska society during her husband’s career there. They have schools and/or streets named after them.

There’s more! If you’ve read about General Douglas MacArthur and the Philippines in WWII, you know that when he was ordered out of the Philippines, he left his second in command behind to face the surrender to the Japanese. General Jonathan M. Wainwright had to surrender and survived 3+ years as a prisoner under brutal conditions. He stood with MacArthur on the USS Missouri to accept the Japanese surrender.

The note in the book is by Jane Wainwright Mears…Lt. Mears’ mother, and General Wainwright’s sister. She is commemorating the return of her brother and the loss of her son.

If the note is authentic (more research ahead) then I do have an interesting find and some fascinating history!

One Man…Many Lives

Today in History, January 24, 1965:

Sir Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill died at the age of 90 in London, England.

I normally try to avoid posting people’s birth and natural cause death dates. These are natural events in their lives, which we all experience. Normally not something they “accomplished.” However as I did my standard research for today’s date, my mind was changed.

Most of the individuals I post about led significant lives…and finding their connections through time is one of my favorite subjects. Yet as I read over several events that I might post about for just this single date, I kept seeing major events which I recognized for having one thing in common…or one person…the remarkable Winston Churchill.

So. Keeping in mind these events are only a microcosm of the influence he had during his 90 years on this Earth:

January 24, 1900. 26-year-old Winston Churchill was a correspondent covering the Boer War in South Africa when he was made a Lieutenant for his exploits. On today’s date he covered the Battle of Spion Kop during the Siege of Ladysmith. During the war he would manage to distinguish himself in combat.

January 24, 1915. The Royal Navy engages the German Navy at the famous Battle of Dogger Bank due to intelligence gained by the Admiralty. In charge of the Admiralty was a 41-year-old First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill. He would leave the office somewhat in disgrace after failed efforts in the Dardanelles and Gallipoli…but the indefatigable man would reinvent himself, serving in the government in several posts, including Lord of the Admiralty again.

January 24, 1943. After having done his time in “the wilderness” when he was nearly the sole voice shouting against appeasement of the Nazi regime, now Winston Churchill was the Prime Minister of Britain. On this date he concluded a landmark conference with American President Franklin Roosevelt at Casablanca, Morocco, during which the Allied leaders set the course for the second world war.

There is so much more to cover that Churchill was involved in; what an amazing life!

Presidential Roosevelts…Firsts in Flight

TODAY IN HISTORY, JANUARY 14, 1943:

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt became the first US President to fly in an aircraft for official business.

FDR was to meet Winston Churchill in Casablanca, Morocco to discuss strategy in WWII. For previous meetings the President and Prime Minister had travelled by warship, but the US military was concerned about heightened U-Boat activity in the Atlantic.

As a result President Roosevelt agreed to make the trip by plane, specifically a Boeing 314 four engine flying boat named the Dixie Clipper. The flight flew from Florida to South America and crossed to North Africa. After the meeting, FDR celebrated his 61st birthday on the return flight. He was already in poor health and the 1700 mile trip took its toll.

Thirty-three years earlier, FDR’s cousin Theodore Roosevelt had become the first president to fly in an aircraft. After having left office, TR was on a speaking tour when he encountered pilot Arch Hoxley at Kinloch Field in St. Louis, Missouri.

The always adventurous TR could not resist the offer to go for a jaunt in the Wright built airplane…little more than a powered kite, and much less luxurious than the Clipper his cousin would use. In fact, TR’s pilot, Hoxley, would die in a plane crash the following December.

I have to wonder if this is historic coincidence or much more. FDR grew up in TR’s very large shadow, and greatly admired him. FDR followed TR’s path as much as he could…Under Secretary of the Navy, the New York legislature and New York governor. While TR was a Republican and FDR was a Democrat, FDR traded on TR’s legend…and TR supported his prodigy. TR wanted to break tradition and serve a third term, which did not happen. FDR was into his fourth term when he died.

So of course one has to wonder if from competitiveness or emulation, was the opportunity to follow up on a Presidentially pioneering flight just too much too pass up?

This 1940…or 2020…That Just Doesn’t Happen Any More…Do You Believe in Evil?

Today in History, January 13, 1992:

“The women cried out, but it didn’t matter to us whether the women lived or died. We were the emperor’s soldiers. Whether in military brothels or in the villages, we raped without reluctance.” –Japanese WWII soldier Yasuji Kaneko.

The Japanese government issued an official apology to Korea for having recruited, abducted, and imprisoned thousands of civilian women into “Comfort Stations” to serve as prostitutes for Japanese soldiers and sailors.

Women from Korea, China, Japan and the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan, Indonesia and other Japanese-occupied territories were trafficked and raped repeatedly.

Depending on who you ask, between 20,000 and 410,000 women. 75% of the women died in their captivity, and those that survived were rendered infertile due to sexual abuse or venereal disease.

Yes, evil does exist.

Yes, human trafficking does exist.

Do you believe it exists today? Throughout history, societies have believed the evils of the past don’t exist anymore…that they have outgrown them. “This is 1910…..this is 1940….this is 2013….that stuff doesn’t happen anymore….”

How do We Know the Distance to the Moon? To the Planets?

Today in History, January 10, 1946:

“Operation Diana”.

The US Army Signal Corps, using a “bedspring antenna” radar from a World War II era US Navy ship, somewhat modified, bounces a signal off of the moon, which took 2.5 seconds to return to the Earth.

The experiment was the precursor to using Radar to determine the distance to other bodies, such as Saturn, and for learning to communicate with later spacecraft outside of Earth’s atmosphere.

Diana was the Roman Moon Goddess, and this project would take the lead in naming later space projects after Roman Gods.

Shortening the War with Tech

Today in History, January 5, 1943:

The light cruiser USS Helena is the first to utilize an anti-aircraft shell equipped with the newly invented radio proximity fuse to shoot down a Japanese dive bomber attacking American ships.

Prior to this anti-aircraft fire had been somewhat inaccurate. The proximity fuse used radio waves projected from the fuse to detonate the shell when it came within range of the enemy aircraft.

Now gunners only had to get their ammunition aimed toward the enemy aircraft, getting the range didn’t matter. The invention is credited with shortening WWII by a year and saving countless lives as a result.