Friday, June 30, 2017

Lena Horne: "I'm Me, And I'm Like Nobody Else."

About fifteen years ago I was a member of the planning and design team for the newly established Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site in Alabama. Fundraising was a big part of our mission and we asked a large core group of airmen who they would like to see as a national spokesman for the effort. To a man, the response was, "Lena Horne!" who made a number of visits to their  two Tuskegee airfields during World War II. They adored her. She was beautiful, had a sultry voice, the perfect figure for a World War II pinup, and a highly successful musical career on stage and screen. She was also strong-willed and, at times, defiant, both characteristics that served her well in the American civil rights movement following the war. No wonder she appealed to them.

Who was this international star and favorite pinup?  Lena Horne was born on this day in Brooklyn in 1917. Those familiar with the singer will always remember her remarkable talent as a legendary performer with a sparkling personality and a beautiful smile, In her almost seventy years in entertainment she worked the big band and cabaret circuits, movies, Broadway, and television. She became politically active in the fight for civil rights following World War II, a decision that placed her on the federal entertainment blacklist for over a decade. Readers can enjoy more details about Horne's life and career in a New York Times obituary published following her death in May 2010.

Horne at Tuskegee Institute banquet, Tuskegee, Alabama

Due to her age and disabilities, Horne was unable to take on the role the Tuskegee Airmen so enthusiastically desired but fundraising commenced in a different direction and eventually contributed to construction and interpretation at the park. Her image and the stories of her visits are embedded in the exhibits. 

I remember Horne well from her frequent television performances and recording beginning in the 1950's. She's always been a personal favorite among pop and jazz singers and the stories of her association with the Tuskegee Airmen story tells me she was one very special lady. 

Here she is performing her signature song, Stormy Weather, from the 1943 film of the same name.


Photos and Illustrations:
Noel Parrish Collection, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, Washington


Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Happy 91st Birthday Wishes To Mel Brooks!

Anyone want to guess which director has three of the top fifteen films on the American Film Institute's 100 Greatest Comedies list? It's none other than Mel Brooks, performer, writer, director, and producer of some of the finest comedy to grace the American stage, big screens in theaters, and the television screens in millions of our homes.

Brooks in a screen still from his super hit, Blazing Saddles (1974)

Brooks started in comedy in the Catskills in the late 1940's, became a television comedy writer and performer in the early 1950's, and graduated to film direction with The Producers in 1968. The rest is history, a laugh track of films including:

Blazing Saddles (1974) "Pardon me while I whip this out."

Young Frankenstein (1974) "Abby...Normal."

Silent Movie (1976) "Non!"

High Anxiety (1977) "Those who are tardy do not get fruit cup!"

History of the World Part I
(1981) "It's good to be the king."

Spaceballs (1987) "May the schwartz be with you."

Robin Hood: Men in Tights
(1993) "Actually Scarlet is my middle name. My whole name is Will Scarlet O'Hara. We're from Georgia."

Dracula: Dead and Loving It (1995) "I have been to many stakings - you have to know where to stand! You know, everything in life is location, location, location...."

The Producers (musical) 2001 "Will the dancing Hitlers please wait in the wings? We are only seeing singing Hitlers.

The Producers (film remake) 2005 "My blue blanket! Give me back my blue blanket!"

Young Frankenstein (musical) 2007  "He vas my boyfriend!"

Brooks has been entertaining us for over 65 years. He has no plans to stop. What I find even more remarkable is the fact that the Mel Brooks in private is most often the same zany entertainer one finds in his films. I recall the many stories my National Park Service colleagues told of Brooks and his wife, Anne Bancroft. In the '70's and '80's they were frequent guests at Caneel Bay Resort inside Virgin Islands National Park on the island of St. John. Known for playing practical jokes on the younger park rangers and resort staff during the day, Brooks and Bancroft hosted them at after-hours gatherings where hilarity ruled. Given the public comedy we know, one can only imagine the memories to come out of the spontaneity of such an evening. 

Brooks has definitely left us with many memories over many decades. Who knows what's next for a comedian who is arguably the funniest man on the planet?  Whatever it is I'm sure we'll be smiling.  

Happy birthday, Mel Brooks!

Sunday, June 25, 2017

George Orwell: "...Politics Itself Is A Mass Of Lies, Evasions, Folly, Hatred And Schizophrenia"

For a prescient and enigmatic writer it is hard to surpass George Orwell. He published these words in his novel 1984 in 1949:

The new aristocracy was made up for the most part of bureaucrats, scientists, technicians, trade-union organizers, publicity experts, sociologists, teachers, journalists, and professional politicians.

Fifteen years following their publication, Lyndon Johnson embedded the "new aristocracy" in his Great Society program, a national government initiative designed to end in a progressive utopia for the American people. I leave an evaluation of the program's success over the last two generations to my readers. Instead I choose to focus on Orwell who as time passes seems to be more and more a visitor from the future who spoke not in terms of political parties but of the human condition, universal rights, and classical liberalism. 

George Orwell - Eric Arthur Blair - was born on this day in India in 1903 and educated at Eton College and through self-study and his experiences in Asia and Europe. Wikipedia defines him aptly as "an English novelist, essayist, journalist and critic. His work is marked by lucid prose, awareness of social injustice, opposition to totalitarianism, and commitment to democratic socialism." 

George Orwell Press Photo, 1933

Most of us know him only as the author of 1984 but there is much more to read and appreciate from this man who is consistently described as one of the most influential writers of the last century. If you only know him as a novelist, I suggest you read some of his early essays, especially Down and Out in Paris and London (1933), The Road to Wigan Pier (1937), and Homage to Catalonia (1938). These works explore social justice themes in some of the finest, most vivid, objective, and descriptive writing to be found in modern English. For another aspect of Orwell's insight readers should explore his literary criticism, available in several compilations.

For a man who passed away at 46, George Orwell left us an enormous and rich body of work that I am sure will influence social and political thought for a very long time. 


Photos and Illustrations:
public domain, old accreditation for National Branch of Union Journalists,

title quote, Politics and the English Language, George Orwell, 1946
subject entry,

A Past Southern Passage

June 25 is a day to remember for many Savannahians in particular and fans of the Great American Songbook in general. It marks the passing of Johnny Mercer in 1976. He was a sentimental gentleman from Georgia, a favorite son of Savannah and one of the nation's most important figures in entertainment in the last century. Mercer's impact was universal. He composed melodies, wrote lyrics, sang a wide range of songs, performed in films, kept the nation laughing with his comedy, and co-founded Capitol Records and the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

Johnny Mercer, New York, N.Y., between 1946 and 48

We have come a long way from the advent of rock and roll in the mid-1950's and its dominance in the family tree of popular music. Still, the Great American Songbook, that generation of music beginning around 1930 and continuing into the early 1960's, has found a comfortable niche among music lovers around the world. Many songs in that now-tattered "book" belong to Mercer and stand in tribute to a man described as America's folk-poet and the finest lyricist in our history.

In his career Mercer wrote the lyrics to 1500 songs, collaborating with the country's top music writers, including Harold Arlen, Bernie Hannigan, Hoagy Carmichael, Harry Warren, Gene DePaul, Henry Mancini, Jerome Kern, Rube Bloom, and Matty Malneck. He also left behind a few thousand more unpublished songs and song fragments, scores of poems and prose pieces, and an unfinished autobiography all housed in the Johnny Mercer Collection at the Georgia State University Library in Atlanta. 

Mercer often talked about his "bread and butter" songs. I'd say most songwriters and performers would be pleased to have five songs in such a list. Mercer had twenty-nine. Regardless of your age and interest in popular music, you may be surprised at how many of these songs you recognize:

Lazybones (1933), music by Hoagy Carmichael;

Goody, Goody (1936), music by Marty Malneck;

Too Marvelous For Words (1937), music by Richard A. Whiting;

Jeepers Creepers (1938), music by Harry Warren;

Satin Doll (1958), written with Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn;

You Must Have Been A Beautiful Baby (1938), music by Harry Warren;

That Old Black Magic (1943), music by Harold Arlen;

Accentuate the Positive (1944) music by Harold Arlen;

Fools Rush In (1940), music by Rube Bloom;

I Remember You (1942), music by Victor Schertzinger;

Day In - Day Out (1939), music by Rube Bloom;

Dearly Beloved (1942), music by Jerome Kern;

Come Rain or Come Shine (1946), music by Harold Arlen;

Tangerine (1942), music by Victor Schertzinger;

Hooray For Hollywood (1938), music by Richard A. Whiting;

Laura (1945), music by David Raksin;

Dream (1944), words and music by Johnny Mercer;

On the Atcheson, Topeka and the Santa Fe (1946, Academy Award for Best Music, Original Song), music by Harry Warren;

Something's Gotta Give (1954), words and music by Johnny Mercer;

One For My Baby (1943), music by Harold Arlen;

In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening (1951, Academy Award for Best Music, Oroginal Song), music by Hoagy Carmichael;

Skylark (1941), music by Hoagy Carmichael;

Autumn Leaves (1950), music by Joseph Kosma;

I Wanna Be Around (1962), words and music by Johnny Mercer and Sadie Vimmerstedt;

Blues in the Night (1941), music by Harold Arlen;

Charade (1963), music by Henry Mancini;

Summer Wind (1965), music by Henry Mayer;

Moon River (1961, Academy Award for Best Music, Original Song), music by Henry Mancini;

Days of Wine and Roses (1962, Academy Award for Best Music, Original Song), music by Henry Mancini;

That's plenty of "bread and butter" on one man's plate, but we need to keep in mind that he had seven more songs nominated for an Academy Award that never made this list. What a remarkable talent...and I bet you hear one of his songs today.

For more on this American folk poet visit


Photos and Illustrations:
William P. Gottlieb Collection, Library of Congress

Johnny Mercer: The Life, Times, and Song Lyrics of Our Huckleberry Friend, Bob Bach and Ginger Mercer, The American Poet and Lyricists Series, Lyle Stuart, October 1982.

Skylark: The Life and Times of Johnny Mercer, Philip Furia, St. Martin's Press, December 2004.

Portrait of Johnny: The Life and Times of John Herndon Mercer, Gene Lees, Hal Leonard, February 2006.

The Complete Lyrics of Johnny Mercer, Johnny Mercer, edited by Kimball, Day, Kreuger, and Davis; Knopf 2009

Johnny Mercer: Southern Songwriter for the World, Glenn T. Eskew, University of Georgia Press, 2013

Johnny Mercer Foundation

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Summer Solstice 2017

For Northern Hemisphere folks the sun reaches its highest point in the sky today. It is the longest day of the year.

Summer Solstice Sunrise at Stonehenge, Wiltshire, England                    NASA

Although the sun begins its descent tomorrow, insolation from our star will continue to raise atmospheric temperatures until late July. As this day marks the end of the season of renewal and the beginning of the season of growth and flower, I am reminded of this quote by D. H. Lawrence...

The greatest need of man is the renewal forever of the complete rhythm of life and death, the rhythm of the Sun's year, the body's year.

...and this music by Johann Sebastian Bach:

Shout with joy to God, all the earth!.... Psalm 66

Monday, June 19, 2017

Juneteenth: Remembering Emancipation

Juneteenth as described by the Library of Virginia...

...has grown into a popular event across the country to commemorate emancipation from slavery and celebrate African American culture. Juneteenth refers to June 19, the date in 1865 when the Union Army arrived in Galveston and announced that the Civil War was over and that slaves were free under the Emancipation Proclamation. Although the proclamation had become official more than two years earlier on January 1, 1863, freedmen in Texas adopted June 19th, later known colloquially as Juneteenth, as the date they celebrated emancipation. Juneteenth celebrations continued into the 20th century, and survived a period of declining participation because of the Great Depression and World War II. In the 1950s and 1960s Juneteenth celebrations witnessed a revival as they became catalysts for publicizing civil rights issues of the day. In 1980 the Texas state legislature established June 19 as a state holiday.

Emancipation                                                        Thomas Nast, American, 1865

It's not a federal holiday but there will be official state celebrations of this historic event in forty-three states. 

The idea that Juneteenth was the most fitting day to celebrate emancipation has faced competition from several significant days including September 22: the day Lincoln issued his preliminary Emancipation Proclamation Order in 1862;  January 1: the day it took effect in 1863; January 31: the date the 13th Amendment passed Congress in 1865, officially abolishing the institution of slavery; and December 6: the day the 13th Amendment was ratified that year.  The persistence of the day's celebration in Texas embedded it in the social fiber of former slaves and their families who carried it with them in their migrations to all corners of the nation and to urban areas in particular.  Growing wealth among black communities in the 20th century also enabled them to hold lengthier and more elaborate celebrations.  

Despite a near-century of prejudice and racism, both de jure and de facto, Juneteenth survived across the nation. It was revitalized nationally by the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. (April 4, 1968), in combination with his Poor People's March on Washington (planned for May 12 to June 24, and its early conclusion with the Solidarity March on June 19.  

We extend our best wishes for a joyous day to all those celebrating Juneteenth.   And it's the perfect time for all of us to "honor the countless contributions made by African Americans to our Nation and pledge to support America’s promise as the land of the free."

For more about the history of this significant day in American history visit the Juneteenth World Wide Celebration site.


Photos and Illustrations:
Library of Congress at

Text:, The African-Americans: Many Rivers to Cross 
"honor the countless" quote,

Sunday, June 18, 2017

"Bring Me My Bow Of Burning Gold!...Bring Me My Chariots Of Fire!"

Seventy-seven years ago today, Prime Minister Winston Churchill delivered his most memorable speech during Britain's war against Adolf Hitler. The threat of invasion by German ground forces was high. The British people descended almost nightly into their bomb shelters as waves of Luftwaffe bombers flew overheard dropping their terror on thousands of victims.

Churchill was a master of the English language but even he struggled for the right words to both describe the reality his countrymen faced and rally them to endure what he knew would be their darkest hour:

The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us. Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be freed and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands. But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new dark age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves, that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, This was their finest hour.

Churchill would go on to receive the Nobel Prize in literature in 1953 for his many volumes of history, biography and other works. He possessed a vivid, lively writing style well worth reading for information as well as enjoyment. For more on this remarkable leader, here is a link to his Wikipedia entry.

And here is a link to the "finest hour" speech in its entirety of thirty minutes. All of it is worth hearing but as one would expect the conclusion is remarkably powerful beginning at 26:13


Photos and Illustrations:
public domain photo, Imperial War Museums

title quote, from the short poem, "Jerusalem," in the preface of William Blake's Milton a Poem.
Winston Churchill,


Father's Day 2017

Best wishes to all dads on their special day. Below is a picture of my dad taken in 1917 when he was in the fourth grade. He grew up to be a lot happier than he appears here - maybe it was the Great War or just a bad day.

Dad in fourth grade, 1917-18

His mom and dad were the son and daughter of first generation immigrants from Germany and Wales. He was afflicted with polio in his early years, but that didn't stop him. He graduated from high school in the midst of the Roaring Twenties, went to work to support his aging parents and married the love of his life in the midst of the Great Depression in 1933. 

Graduation, Class of 1925

He was an entrepreneur at heart who was self-employed in the insurance and utilities industries and owned his own business by the early '50's. He left the Rust Belt in 1956 for even better careers in hospitality management, a field he loved dearly because of his commitment to quality service and customer satisfaction. He was "old school:" through and through and never met a stranger.

At home in 1928

Nancy and I have raised three fine children to successful adulthood. Though neither of our dads was present during virtually all of our children's "shaping" we know that their values played a major role in teaching our kids to be responsible, caring, and loving individuals. Such continuity is essential if we are to have community and commonwealth in these and future times. 

Dressed for community theater in 1928

Not a day passes without a wish to have our dads and their guidance with us once more. How fortunate we were to have such beacons in our lives. And how wonderful it would be to see the reverence and respect for fatherhood restored in our nation today.

Having expressed that wish for the future, we are left with this wish for today: Happy Father's Day and a big "Thank You" to our dads, Bill and Vergil, and to fathers everywhere.

Dad and Mom at her family's farm in 1936

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Igor Stravinsky: He Put The "New" In New Music

Igor Stravinsky, popularly recognized as a leading founder of Modern music in the 20th century, was born in Russia on this day in 1882. He lived in Switzerland and France before immigrating to the United States after World War II. Over his lifetime he composed in a variety of styles but is best remembered for his dazzling, rhythmic music in the early years - 1910 to 1914 - of the Ballets Russes produced by Sergei Diaghilev in Paris.

 Portrait of Stravinsky                                  Robert Delaunay, 1917

His work during that brief period included The Firebird (1910), Petrushka (1911), and The Rite of Spring (1913). One could say they are all signature pieces - experimental and revolutionary - that dazzled and in some cases infuriated their audiences. Regardless, the three compositions as well as other sounds from Stravinsky's imagination had a huge impact on music and the arts.  He was 27 when audiences first heard The Firebird. For a taste of that music here is the finale. While you listen, keep in mind that Henry Ford sold 10,000 cars that year, the U.S. had 1000 miles of paved road, half the American population lived on farms or towns with fewer than 2500 people, and the flying machine was a very rare and thrilling sight. 

In the century since the premiere of The Firebird, its innovative sounds have been re-patterned by the likes of Aaron Copeland, Leonard Bernstein, John Williams and others including Philip Glass who has perhaps carried rhythm as art to its farthest horizon to date. In the view of Tom Service writing in The Guardian in 2011,

Stravinsky is the only common influence that composers from Steve Reich to Thomas Ad├Ęs, from Judith Weir to John Adams, from Elliott Carter to Louis Andriessen, can all agree on. Without Stravinsky, there would be no minimalism, not much neo-classicism, not enough rhythmic energy, and not nearly enough compositional freedom in the 20th and 21st centuries. Four decades on, the Stravinsky that's proved most popular with audiences, orchestras and concert halls is the colouristic brilliance of the three early ballets, Firebird, Petrushka, and the Rite.

Although Stravinsky left this world almost a half century ago he indeed remains as the title of Service's article describes him, "Stravinsky Our Contemporary."


Photos and Illustrations:
portrait, public domain, Robert Delaunay, New Art Gallery Walsall, West Midlands, England

Igor Stravinsky entry,
quotation, Tom Service, "Stravinsky Our Contemporary,, April 6, 2011

Friday, June 16, 2017

Ulysses At 95: "Hold To The Now, The Here, Through Which All Future Plunges To The Past."

In the world of Western literature June 16 is far from an ordinary day. It isn't that a number of significant events occurred or that any event occurred that day. Instead, June 16 (1904) is the setting for a several hundred page descriptive stream of happenings in the life of Leopold Bloom, the protagonist in the James Joyce novel, Ulysses. The Swiss psychiatrist, Carl Jung, said this about the book:

What is so staggering about Ulysses is the fact that behind a thousand veils nothing lies hidden; that it turns neither toward the mind nor toward the world, but, as cold as the moon looking on from cosmic space, allows the drama of growth, being, and decay to pursue its course.

First edition copy (1922) "unread except for the racy bits

To say the least, Ulysses is an adventure. For some it may be merely pornographic or a huge word puzzle or a unique work of art in its truest form. However you chose to view the novel keep in mind that people are celebrating this work and its author across the world today on what has become known as Bloomsday. And even those who know nothing about Bloomsday, never read the book or know little about the author have likely encountered bits and pieces of Joyce's skill in school and through popular culture. Here is one of those most often quoted pieces:

I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.

I came to appreciate that quote so much I used it for several years in a descriptive writing course. Others could have been useful but their playfulness simply made them enjoyable:

Meditations of evolution increasingly vaster: of the moon invisible in incipient lunation, approaching perigee: of the infinite lattiginous scintillating uncondensed milky way, discernible by daylight by an observer placed at the lower end of a cylindrical vertical shaft 5000 ft deep sunk from the surface towards the centre of the earth: of Sirius (alpha in Canis Maior) 10 lightyears (57,000,000,000,000 miles) distant and in volume 900 times the dimension of our planet: of Arcturus: of the precession of equinoxes: of Orion with belt and sextuple sun theta and nebula in which 100 of our solar systems could be contained: of moribund and of nascent new stars such as Nova in 1901: of our system plunging towards the constellation of Hercules: of the parallax or parallactic drift of socalled fixed stars, in reality evermoving wanderers from immeasurably remote eons to infinitely remote futures in comparison with which the years, threescore and ten, of allotted human life formed a parenthesis of infinitesimal brevity.

Rest assured there is more there than the racy bits.

If you want to learn more about the day, the book, and the author, visit these sites: Bloomsday, Ulysses, and James Joyce.


Photo and Illustrations:, June 4, 2009, photo by Martin Argles

Thursday, June 15, 2017

The Magna Carta: Origins Of Royal Accountability

By all accounts he was a rather nasty king who habitually squeezed money from his subjects to fund his quest for territory.  He was so land hungry that he was nicknamed "Lackland" because his father gave all his sons territory except for him. By the early 1200's England's King John had lost Normandy and virtually all of Avignon to France. He also quarreled with Pope Innocent III over a nominee for the post of Archbishop of Canterbury. By 1215, the king found himself face to face with opposition from influential, learned, and powerful members of English society.

On June 15, 1215, the opposition demanded certain liberties from the English crown throughout the kingdom. King John had no alternative but to sign the document, the Magna Carta, if he wished to remain on the throne. The document had several demands but three of them were most significant. They were: the Church had authority to select its staff, money beyond set payments were to be collect by the King from his tenants without their approval, and all punishment of freeman was to be carried out according to the law of the land.

Articles of the Barons (Magna Carta), 1215            British Library

Here is a summation of the significance of the document for English people written by Michael Wood in his  book, The Story of England, a companion volume to the BBC documentary of the same name:

In the Magna Carta in 1215 King John had acceded to the barons' demands made in response to his wholesale abuses of power. In essence it was a charter for the ruling class but it embodied the crucial principle that the king was bound by the law. Immediately after John's death Magna Carta was reissued in the name of his successor, and there were several versions up to 1225. Since then it has come to be regarded by English people, and by all who have adopted English law, as the chief constitutional defense against arbitrary or unjust rule. Its most famous clauses express some of the English people's most deeply held political beliefs, and pertain to both rich and poor:
No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed, or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any other way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgement of his equals, or by the law of the land . . . To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice.
Later lawyers found here the basis for fundamental English rights: equality before the law and freedom from arbitrary arrest . . . .

Stephen Hayward provides more information in this fine Instapundit tribute to today's historic moment in Western history.


Kings and Queens of England and Great Britain, Eric R. Delderfield, David & Charles Publishers, Devon, 1977

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

On Flag Day 2017: You're A Grand Old Flag

Today is Flag Day, a day for commemorating the adoption of  a design by Francis Hopkinson as the official Flag of the United States on this date in 1777.

Francis Hopkinson Flag                                                                                    1777

Here are some words about the Hopkinson flag from the link above:

Hopkinson is recognized as the designer of the official "first flag" of the United States. Although he sought compensation from Congress, the letter was somewhat comical. He asked for a quarter cask of wine in payment for the flag, the Great Seal, and various other contributions. Congress used the usual bureaucratic tactics of asking for an itemized bill. After some back and forth, Congress eventually refused on the pretext that Hopkinson was already paid as a public servant. The letter also mentioned that Hopkinson collaborated with others on his designs because he was one of many contributing to the Great Seal. [6][7]
While there is no known Hopkinson flag in existence today, we do know from his rough sketch that it had thirteen stars and thirteen stripes. It is believed that his flag used red and white stripes and white stars on a field of blue. Because the original stars used in the Great Seal had six points, we might also assume that Hopkinson's flag intended the use of a 6-pointed star. This is bolstered by his original sketch that showed asterisks with six points.
The legend of Betsy Ross as the designer of the first flag entered into American consciousness about the time of the 1876 centennial celebrations. See Betsy Ross Flag. This flag with its circle of 13 stars came into popular use as a flag commemorating our nation's birth. Many Americans today still cling to the Betsy Ross legend that she designed the flag and most are unaware of Hopkinson's legacy.

There are any number of song written about our national flag. Among the best of them is George M. Cohan's 1906 rouser, "Your A Grand Old Flag," written in 1906 for his musical, George Washington, Jr. It's performed by Billy Murray, a leading American entertainer in the first decades of the century.


Photos and Illustrations:
Hopkinson Flag, public domain image,

Francis Hopkinson, entry,
"You're A Grand Old Flag," entry,

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

It's Not The Crime, It's The Cover-Up

We're hearing a lot these days about political lies, deception, and cover-ups after eight years of political lies, deception, and cover-ups that hardly raised an eyebrow in the American "press." When the truth hits a nerve among the populous the consequences can be cleansing as well as painful. Forty-six years ago today the American public finally began to read some truth about their country's involvement in the political struggle of Vietnam from 1945 through mid-1968. It wasn't pretty. In fact, the outrage it, the Kent State murders the year before, and the Watergate scandal in June of 1972 generated, would heighten revolutionary fervor from coast to coast and consume Nixon's presidency in 1974. 

Here is a fine summary of the Pentagon Papers story from
The New York Times begins to publish sections of the so-called “Pentagon Papers,” a top-secret Department of Defense study of America’s involvement in the Vietnam War. The papers indicated that the American government had been lying to the people for years about the Vietnam War and the papers seriously damaged the credibility of America’s Cold War foreign policy.
In 1967, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara ordered his department to prepare an in-depth history of American involvement in the Vietnam War. McNamara had already begun to harbor serious doubts about U.S. policy in Vietnam, and the study–which came to be known as the “Pentagon Papers”–substantiated his misgivings. Top-secret memorandums, reports, and papers indicated that the U.S. government had systematically lied to the American people, deceiving them about American goals and progress in the war in Vietnam. The devastating multi-volume study remained locked away in a Pentagon safe for years. In 1971, Daniel Ellsberg, a Defense Department employee who had turned completely against the war, began to smuggle portions of the papers out of the Pentagon. These papers made their way to the New York Times, and on June 13, 1971, the American public read them in stunned amazement. The publication of the papers added further fuel to the already powerful antiwar movement and drove the administration of President Richard Nixon into a frenzy of paranoia about information “leaks.” Nixon attempted to stop further publication of the papers, but the Supreme Court refused to issue an injunction. 
The “Pentagon Papers” further eroded the American public’s confidence in their nation’s Cold War foreign policy. The brutal, costly, and seemingly endless Vietnam War had already damaged the government’s credibility, and the publication of the “Pentagon Papers” showed people the true extent to which the government had manipulated and lied to them. Some of the most dramatic examples were documents indicating that the Kennedy administration had openly encouraged and participated in the overthrow of South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem in 1963; that the CIA believed that the “domino theory” did not actually apply to Asia; and that the heavy American bombing of North Vietnam, contrary to U.S. government pronouncements about its success, was having absolutely no impact on the communists’ will to continue the fight.

There is more at the site here. And thanks to the National Archives and Records Administration you can read the complete report without redactions here.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Full Strawberry Moon 2017

Tonight – June 8, 2017 – the Strawberry Moon will look plenty full as it groups up with the star Antares and the planet Saturn in the southeastern sky at nightfall. As our Earth turns underneath the heavens, the full-looking moon, Antares and Saturn will move westward across the nighttime sky. The celestial threesome will climb highest up tonight around midnight, and will sit low in the west at dawn June 9. In North America, we commonly call the June full moon the Strawberry Moon.

File:Moon and red blue haze.jpg
Moonrise, August 2005                                                        Fir0002/Flagstaffotos

It's rising right now on the East Coast! Such a treat with Antares and Saturn as companions. Among other details it is the smallest full moon of the year. For more on the Full Strawberry Moon check out this post at


Photos and Illustrations:
Full Moon entry,

quote, Strawberry Moon article, June 8, 2017,

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Invasion Of Normandy, June 6, 1944

A great invasion force stood off the Normandy coast of France as dawn broke on 6 June 1944: 9 battleships, 23 cruisers, 104 destroyers, and 71 large landing craft of various descriptions as well as troop transports, mine sweepers, and merchantmen-in all, nearly 5,000 ships of every type, the largest armada ever assembled. The naval bombardment that began at 0550 that morning detonated large minefields along the shoreline and destroyed a number of the enemy's defensive positions. To one correspondent, reporting from the deck of the cruiser HMS Hillary, it sounded like "the rhythmic beating of a gigantic drum" all along the coast. In the hours following the bombardment, more than 100,000 fighting men swept ashore to begin one of the epic assaults of history, a "mighty endeavor," as President Franklin D. Roosevelt described it to the American people, "to preserve . our civilization and to set free a suffering humanity."

The attack had been long in coming. From the moment British forces had been forced to withdraw from France in 1940 in the face of an overwhelming German onslaught, planners had plotted a return to the Continent. Only in that way would the Allies be able to confront the enemy's power on the ground, liberate northwestern Europe, and put an end to the Nazi regime.

Normandy was the largest amphibious invasion in history. Nine thousand Allied soldiers were killed or wounded that day. We are unlikely to ever see an invasion of this scale again. For more on the significance of this day visit the U.S. Army Center of Military History's Normandy page.


Photos and Illustrations
Map, Department of History, United States Military Academy

Quote. U.S. Army Center of Military History