Thursday, September 29, 2016

Knights of the Air

I can hardly believe the emotional effect this book is having on me. No, I haven't finished it yet, but so far it is a superb tale of World War II. This is one of those stories that reminds me that not everyone on the other side is evil or a monster. They might serve a monstrous cause but when you get right down to it, what choice did they have?

Franz Stigler had the opportunity to make a choice, and he made the right one, though it was a choice that could have seen him stood up against a wall and shot. In war, not all choices are clear, not all courses of action will have a good result. Sometimes though, things work out.

Sadly, neither of these two warriors is still with us, both passed in 2008. The following video clip remembers them. I would point you to an account of what happened, but really, you need to read the book. It is, in a word, superb.

The following clip came out after the book was published, tells more of the story.

You really need to read this book.

For those of you who notice such things, the painting at the top is not the same one on the cover of the book. The Me-109 is very different between the two paintings. Hhmm...

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

It Never Touched the Ground!

Sgt William H. Carney, 54th Massachusetts, MOH (Source)
The place, South Carolina, specifically Morris Island, an island guarding the southern approach to Charleston. The year is 1863. Battery Wagner has been constructed by the Confederacy, the Union Army has determined to seize this place. (Note that the North referred to this place as Fort Wagner.) The scene is set, the players are ready, what happened next is history.


On the 10th of July, 1863, Federal forces had landed and seized a foothold on Morris Island but had failed to carry Battery Wagner by storm. The 7th Connecticut, 76th Pennsylvania, and 9th Maine infantry regiments had suffered heavy losses in the attempt. The Union command determined on a set piece attack in order to clear Morris Island of the rebels.

On the morning of 18 July 1863, a furious artillery bombardment by both land based guns and 11 ships of the Union Navy, thundered over the dunes as the Union Army pounded Battery Wagner. Shot and shell seemed to have little effect on the Battery. But as the sun began to set, Brigadier General Quincy Gillmore (West Point class of 1849), turned to Colonel Robert Gould Shaw and ordered the assault on Battery Wagner to begin.

As Colonel Shaw led his green regiment forward (the men had only seen action for the first time a few days before) in the ranks of that regiment, the 54th Massachusetts Infantry, was a young sergeant by the name of William H. Carney. Born a slave in Norfolk, Virginia, he had escaped and joined his father in New Bedford, MA. As a point of historical fact, the 54th was an African American regiment, a Negro regiment in the parlance of the times.

Freed black men, led by white officers, enlisted to fight for the cause of freedom. Freedom for their fellows held as chattel in the South. Though the war had many causes, to these men, freeing the slaves was the only cause that mattered. Who can blame them for thinking that way?

The regiment marched forward, assailed by shot and shell, men dropping as they were hit, the ranks closing as this regiment in Union blue marched to assault the fort. Never wavering, they advanced, they didn't look green as they marched into the teeth of rebel cannon and rifle fire.

In front of Sergeant Carney, the color bearer carrying the national colors went down, dead. The young sergeant seized the colors and advanced onto the ramparts of Battery Wagner. Hit once, and then again, Sergeant Carney realized he was alone. The enemy's fire was too much for mortal man to bear. Fortunately, other Union regiments were also attacking and had attracted the attention of the Confederate defenders. But not for long.

Seriously wounded, Sgt. Carney wrapped the flag around its staff and withdrew, back to where so many of his regiment lay dead or wounded. Including the regiment's commander, Col. Shaw.

Another Union soldier offered to take the colors to the rear when he came across Sgt Carney and noticed how badly wounded he was. Sgt. Carney refused to relinquish the flag to anyone other than another member of the 54th.


For his actions that day, Sergeant William H. Carney was awarded the Medal of Honor, some 37 years after the fact. The citation reads:
When the color sergeant was shot down, this soldier grasped the flag, led the way to the parapet, and planted the colors thereon. When the troops fell back he brought off the flag, under a fierce fire in which he was twice severely wounded.
One of the regiments which distracted the rebel defenders briefly, the 7th New Hampshire, had a soldier from Hillsborough, NH, in its ranks, Pliny Gammel. Private Gammel was my great-great uncle. He survived the war and had a family. As did Sgt. Carney.

One thing which has always fascinated me is that these black men, so badly treated by the country in many ways, came forward to fight for her. Treated as second class citizens, enslaved in some regions of the country, yet they still stepped up and fought for the United States.

In every war this nation has ever fought, minorities have volunteered to fight for this nation. Japanese-Americans in WWII are another fine example. Though you might scoff, the Irish in the United States were treated like dogs, they too did their duty in the Civil War.

Treated like dirt, still they fought, and died, for our freedoms. As I often say, "Where do we get such men?" (And these days, " and women?)
When the Union troops were forced to retreat under fire, Carney struggled back across the battlefield. He eventually made his way back to his own lines and turned over the colors to another survivor of the 54th, modestly saying, "Boys, I only did my duty; the old flag never touched the ground!" Carney received an honorable discharge due to disability (as a result of his wounds) in June 1864. (Source)
Read more about Sgt Carney here. Two good accounts of the assault on Battery Wagner are here and here.
When we heard the words, duty, honor and country, no more needed to be said. But that is a bygone era. Today we rarely hear of our personal responsibility in discussions of broad notions such as freedom or liberty. It is as if freedom and liberty exist wholly independent of anything we do, as if they are predestined. - Clarence Thomas (Source)
Amen brother. Amen.

William H. Carney, American Warrior and Hero (Source)

Tuesday, September 27, 2016


Government secret squirrel, photographed in Washington DC. (Source)
When I was nobbut a lad, we moved from a rented place (which was most of a house but not all of it) to an actual house, purchased in its entirety (and not shared with anyone else) by my parents in the waning years of the 1950s. To mark the event, my parents decided that we should have a pet. The pet would be a cat because my father was somewhat leery of dogs having been attacked by one as a child. No damage done but Dad had a narrow escape, as he told the tale and as I never heard anyone gainsay him, I had no reason to doubt his telling of the event.

In fact, I did hear him relate the story in the presence of at least one of his brothers. As brothers will often mock the youngest, for so Dad was, and no one did at the time, the story must have had some veracity. I never questioned Dad's caution regarding the canine race as there were a couple of times in my own youth where a neighbor's uncontrolled dog gave me a scare. Myself being stupid, and said canines being very small, I did go after them when they displayed a bit of aggression, and they, being smarter than I, did withdraw expeditiously at the sight of a large-ish lad coming at them screaming like a banshee.

Anyhoo, the decision was made to get a cat. So it was off to the local animal shelter to procure a feline of a young age, for it was a kitten we had all settled on having. (I don't recall getting a vote, nor did The Olde Vermonter who was barely out of his infancy. As to my youngest sibling, The Musician, he wasn't even a gleam in my father's eye at the time. His arrival was a couple of years hence.)

I remember the shelter vaguely, no windows that I recall and lit by artificial light, which makes me remember getting the cat as a nighttime event. Though as I clearly remember riding home in the backseat of the family automotive conveyance in the daylight, it must have been daytime. Which means it would have been a weekend, no doubt a Saturday, as Dad worked Monday through Friday. And as Mom would have us all in Church on a Sunday, and the shelter no doubt being closed on the Sabbath, that pretty much locks it down as a Saturday.

But I was quite young, either late in my fourth year or early in my fifth, I don't remember all of the details, so some of what follows is a bit speculative, but as accurate as I can recall. I do remember that at the shelter, a feisty all-black cat leaped from his cage (might have been a shelf) onto my Dad's shoulders and The Olde Vermonter and I both simultaneously proclaimed, "That's the one! We want that one!" So, truth be told, the cat chose us, not we him.

Upon our return to the ancestral home (for that's how I remember it, I truly spent my formative years there) someone, probably Mom, mothers being the practical members of the species, declared that the feisty, all-black feline had to have a name, a moniker, something to call him by other than "Cat," which may have been The Olde Vermonter's suggestion. (After all, as Hizzoner might have said, "he may tell it differently but this is how I remember it." And it is, after all, my blog.)

Now in the old neighborhood, from which we were only recently removed, I had a friend across the street about my age, his name was Tommy. So, in an excess of youthful exuberance, I proclaimed that the feisty, all-black feline would henceforth and forever be called "Tommy!" A glance from Yours Truly towards my younger brother sealed the deal. After all, older brothers usually, though not always I'm told, though it never happened to me, prevail. The two younger members of the tribe decided one day that as they had me outnumbered, their two, to my one, then an all out attack would overwhelm me and yield the field to them. Outnumbered I may have been, outgunned I was not. As I probably weighed more than the two of them combined (they being somewhat slight of build, me being somewhat, ahem, hefty) I was able to overwhelm first one, then the other. Their attack was not as simultaneous as they would have liked. Of course, The Olde Vermonter, as he veered off began crying as loudly as he could, "MOM! MOM! CHRIS IS BEATING US UP!!"

Well, their reinforcement arrived, I was in hack but still undefeated on my home turf. Mom, naturally, said, "Wait until I tell your Father..." I knew it to be summat of an empty threat, Dad was a bit of a pushover when it came to "his boys," Mom was the real power in the house. (As most Moms are.)

Anyhoo, I was talking about cats, not pounding on my younger siblings. Though "pound" is perhaps an exaggeration, no bones were ever broken, no blood (well, only a little) was ever shed. At least there were no credible witnesses to such a thing.

Hhmm, drifted again, didn't I?

So, Tommy, an all-black feline (one of my Dad's "idiot buddies," - his words, not mine - at work claimed that there was "no such thing as an all black cat, there's always a white spot somewhere." Nope, Tommy was jet black, not a spot o' white anywhere. Big yellow eyes, he was quite a good looking lad.) was male, until he was "fixed," which puzzled we boys, we had no idea he was "broken." Of course, that's not information you shared with boys, at least not in those days.

Tommy, though hit by a car twice (both times driven by my mother) lived to the ripe old age of 12. Which is a ripe old age for an outdoor cat. He also grew to be around 15 pounds as I recall. All muscle he was, as I discovered when he was in the process of mauling a squirrel one day and Dad called me out as back up.

Now I have written of Tommy before, here and here, but I'm pretty sure I've not told this tale of Tommy and the squirrel.

It seems that up behind the next door neighbor to the north's house Tommy had managed to catch a squirrel. While one might argue that the squirrel must have been (a) slow, (b) not paying attention, (c) stupid, or perhaps (d) all of the above, nevertheless this particular squirrel had fallen into the clutches of an excellent feline predator. Said feline predator (that would be Tommy) was in the process of "playing" with the squirrel in a manner with which the squirrel was neither accustomed to, nor comfortable with.

Dad had spotted Tommy messing with something which was still moving, and desperately trying to get away from that big cat. We did like to discourage Tommy from slaughtering the local non-mouse population, but often did not succeed. So Dad called me out and off we went to "Save the Squirrel."

Dad yelled out, "You grab Tommy while I try to see how badly hurt the squirrel is!"

Quick to obey the paternal command I grabbed Tommy behind his shoulders. I could see that the squirrel was pretty messed up, I won't go into the literally gory details, but in my "expert" opinion, the squirrel was not long for this world.

After this rapid assessment I noticed two things, first, grabbing a cat intent on its prey is rather like grabbing a block of granite covered in fur. Rock solid muscle lay underneath that velvety black exterior. Secondly, Tommy was making this low pitched rumbling noise which sounded as if it belonged to a march larger animal. Think jaguar, tiger, lion, yeah, much bigger.

Now Tommy wasn't overtly threatening me, he was letting me know that what I was doing was an extremely ill-considered idea. It might behoove me, in fact, to let go and "back away human, you are interfering with nature."

So I did. That is, let go and back away. In that moment, as Tommy's attention was drawn elsewhere, the mauled squirrel made a break for it, an act of desperation for sure but he made it to the nearest tree and headed skyward like a Viper in burner.

Tommy, though initially pissed, decided that fun time was over, time to head into the house and see what was for dinner. Apparently squirrel was no longer listed as one of the specials. He'd have to settle for store bought.

Dad, in the meantime, had watched the squirrel use it's last bit of energy to escape Tommy and gain as much altitude as possible. He asked me for my assessment of the squirrel's medical condition (though not in so many words), which I gave as, "I dunno Dad, that squirrel is pretty f**ked up."

"He's what?" Dad inquired, somewhat brusquely.

"Uh, messed up. Yeah Dad, I said messed up..." Hoping to put one over on the Old Man.

Focusing instead on the task at hand, realizing that his "son and heir" (that would be me) could be dealt with later at his leisure, Dad gave me the evil eye and said, "Keep an eye on that squirrel, I don't think he's going anywhere but I'm going to go get my rifle."

Pretty sure that the rifle was for the squirrel and not me, though I had been chastised before for employing the "F" bomb in polite company, so I wasn't completely sure, I kept a weather eye on Monsieur Squirrel perched up in the tree, panting and bleeding profusely. (Yes, poor thing was a goner. Dad couldn't bear to see anything suffer, especially when it was our cat who had dealt out the damage.)

Dad's .35 caliber Marlin. Or "The Shoulder Fired Man Portable Cannon" as we called it. (Source)
Dad came out, rifle in hand, wanting to know if the squirrel was still there. Now this squirrel apparently wasn't as dumb as my earlier surmise took him to be. He'd obviously survived at least one squirrel hunting season (yes, they have squirrel season in Vermont, going on right now as a matter of fact) as he apparently knew what a rifle was and what a rifle could do to a squirrel. He kept the trunk of that tree between him and Dad, no doubt using up what little energy he had left in him.

At that point Dad told me to pick up a stick and go around to move the squirrel back towards him. Well, I did just that, but I wasn't holding it right.

"You've got to hold it like a rifle! You're not fooling that squirrel!" Dad barked at me, all the while maintaining a bead on the squirrel's last known position.

So I held the stick as if it were a rifle, even going so far as to "aim" it at the tree. I did not wish to be outwitted by this large rodent. Well, the squirrel saw me, he shifted position and...


The Marlin roared and what was left of that poor squirrel was blown a good 25 yards "down range" as it were. Dad said he had been aiming at the tree adjacent to the squirrel so that the bullet wouldn't go far.

Chunks of elm and squirrel littered the back yard.

Squirrel was put out of his misery.

Dad got to fire his rifle (truth be told Dad was a damned good shot) and I got to watch.

Neither Tommy nor my mother were all that pleased.

Tommy was deprived of his prey. And Mom was rather annoyed at having squirrel parts all over the backyard. (Though truth be told, those squirrel bits were up the hill a ways and on a part of the backyard where Mom seldom ventured. I guess it was the idea of it rather than the reality. I mean none of Mom's friends had squirrel parts in their backyard did they? Wasn't proper, was it?)

Tommy was mollified with a can of tuna (not an everyday occurrence, I can tell you) and Mom was mollified by Dad picking up the squirrel bits and properly disposing of them.

Did I help Dad with that?

Oh Hell no, I was well down the street heading to my buddy's house as soon as the squirrel met his Maker. When I saw the debris falling, I kind of figured Mom wasn't going to let that go. Uh, uh. No sir.


Growing up in Vermont in the 50s and 60s, kinda like the backwoods it was. The Clampetts had nothing on us. (Well, they did find oil. We didn't. And not for lack of shooting holes in the yard.)

And that's the tale of Tommy and the squirrel. I swear it's all true. (Well, as near as I can remember, it was a long, long time ago.)

Monday, September 26, 2016

Canine Flight

I've gotten to thinking about various aspects of my life recently.  And looking through my attempts at blogging over the last couple of years, I realized there is one portion of it that I haven't written about.

Therefore, let me introduce you to Canine Flight, the finest group of wingmen an ex-fighter pilot could have.

Canine Lead, callsign "Cooper" is a Transylvanian Hound.  She joined the flight on recommendation from my Beautiful Daughter (MBD), who thought having a dog in College would be just what she needed. After realizing that the logic of paternal arguments to the contrary was not going to be heeded, I implored her to get a small dog.

Apparently the concept that a small puppy is not the same thing as a small dog was lost in translation.
Is it time to play ball yet, Dad?

Cooper had several TDY's to the Juvat compound as MBD progressed through her edumacation.  Finally, she PCS'd here when MBD completed her degree with an extended stay in Senegal.

Anyhow, Cooper brings considerable talent to the fight.  She is able to provide physical proof of Newtonian physics, specifically the theory that Force=Mass x Velocity 2.  Ask me how I know.

It quickly became apparent that my throwing ability was insufficient to adequately propel a ball far and fast enough to challenge her "need for speed".  On advice of my (multi-large dog owning) sister, I substituted a tennis racket for my shoulder and both my shoulder and Cooper thank her.

Cooper has mastered the vertical leap with full spin and catch in such a manner that the Czechoslovakian judge has given her a 9. Update: The East German judge, who was contacted now living in Munich, still wasn't impressed, giving her a 6. (If you don't get that one, whippersnapper, get off my lawn.)

Cooper's favorite sleeping position is at the foot of the bed, precisely 9 inches to the right of the edge of the bed.  I sleep in that 9 inches.

Canine 2, callsign "Corky", is a 15 year old Jack Russell.  Corky is our only "planned" addition to the flight. Corky was introduced to the flight after the commander's (notice the lower case, that's intentional, nothing about my circumstances reflects command of anything) resistance was lowered by a day of planting grapevines at our friend's winery. Step, bend down, dig, plant, attach drip spigot, tie off vine, straighten. Repeat.  Every 4' for 5 acres.  It was at that point, I learned the proper term for growing grapes is .....Farming!

Who's there?

In exchange for that effort, we were offered Corky (along with medicinal doses of tylenol and wine).

Corky, as she get's on in years, has developed a new game.  We call it "Marco Polo".  And just like the game played by kids in every swimming pool on earth, there's not much strategy, just call out "Marco" and the other players respond "Polo".

Only, in Corky's version, it's "Bark", which sets the rest of the fourship into a rage of Barking.  Great fun! Kids do not try this at home.

Oscar's preferred sleeping spot is 18 inches from the right edge of the bed, head high.  Given that she twitches when having dreams of chasing rabbits, I tend to sleep in the 12 inches to the left.

Canine 3, call sign Oscar, is a Dachshund Rat Terrier mix.  Oscar joined the flight about 6 years ago on Mother's Day.

Oscar's lineage is somewhat mysterious in its origins.  The neighbor to the north has registered pure bred Black Angus cattle.  Now, I'm not sure exactly what that entails, but since he has been known to correct me if I don't use those exact words to describe his cattle, it must be something.
No, those are not Registered Pure Bred Black Angus. Those are a herd of Mouflon Sheep that live in our area and our transiting his property and then mine.

On the east side of our property is another cattle ranch which raises cows.  However, they also raised Pure Bred Dachshunds.

Well, seems one dark and stormy night the bull from the eastern ranch jumped the fence of the northern ranch and had his ways with the registered pure bred Black Angus heifers.

At some point later, again on a dark and stormy night the mixed breed although primarily Rat Terrier male from the northern ranch found its way into the padlocked fenced in kennel of the eastern ranch and had his way with the Pure Bred Dachshund females.

That Mother's Day, the wife and I are coming home from Church and notice some cars parked at the confluence of the three properties gates.  Our eastern neighbors were there chatting.  Being neighborly, we stopped and rolled down the window on my wife's side.  Up walks the rancher and he's holding a Dachshund-Rat Terrier pup.

I should have floored the car at that point. I didn't.

He hands the pup to Mrs. Juvat and the deal is sealed. (I think the Northern Rancher got the best end of the deal, I mean Brisket is Brisket.)

Oscar is a sweet heart.  His role in the flight is to accompany me to feed the horses and to guard the truck while I'm doing that.

Target Area in Sight! Full speed ahead!

 He's very professional in that role,  he will bark to let me know it's time to go feed them and then once again when it's time to let Grace out of the barn. (She's on a special diet having lost a few teeth and so not as able to digest hay, I have to feed her more grain than the other two younger horses.  If I don't close her stall though, the others will come in and eat it for her.  This necessitates two trips to the barn for one feeding.)

The two paints on an intercept course hoping for a little extra grain.  Success in that endeavor will depend on whether they make it to the barn before I get Grace's stall door open.  If they do, their presence in front of the door will require me to distract them with...grain.  These horses aren't stupid.  I've taught them well.

Of course, his internal clock is augmented by the alarm on my watch for both events.

Oscar's preferred sleeping spot is in the small of Mrs. Juvat's back.  Given that he's a very warm dog, she tends to sleep with the blankets and sheet thrown onto my side of the bed.
What? I'm just keeping Mom's side warm until she gets home.

Yes, Oscar's last name IS Mike, Alpha, Yankee, Echo, Romeo.  I know you're singing that song in your head now.

Finally, our newest addition, Canine 4, callsign "Annie".  Annie was assigned to the flight Christmas Eve four years ago.  Mrs Juvat was leaving the store and heading home when she saw something by the dumpster.  Stopping for a closer look, she see's Annie shivering in the cold.  Bringing her home, she presents her to me as an early "Christmas Present."  Her official name is, of course, Little Orphan Annie.

A blend of Chihuahua and Rat Terrier, she brings the nervous enthusiasm endemic to both breeds to the fight.
Dad, can't a girl get a little sleep?  That 0300 call out this morning has me worn out

She handles the early warning responsibility for the 4 ship.  She's on every unexpected noise with a ferocious enthusiasm.  This, of course, sets off another round of Canine "Marco Polo" from Canine 2, forcing action on the part of Canines 1 and 2.  Said action usually being a commit call and deploying forces out the back door and into the dog pen.

Annie also is very affectionate.  She will climb up into your chair and then onto your chest and plop her face right across you face, holding it there until you give her a kiss, the louder the better.

The four ship is fully formed and in action during a post-prandial Maker's Mark consumption exercise.

Came upon this sight after working in the woodshop for about an hour on Saturday.  The bed WAS made when I left!

Canine flight has actually committed into combat a few times.  Right now their kill ratio against evil skunks is about even.  They have taken a few hits though.

So, it's been a pretty crummy week and a half.  I may or may not write about it.  Suffice it to say a pair of tragedies occurred to people I work with.  No way to answer the whys, they and us just have to drive on through.

My family, with both the two and four legged members, is what keeps me going and grounded.  I wish the same for all.  God Bless!

Sunday, September 25, 2016

An Appeal to Heaven

Between now and the election much will be said and written by both sides. Note that. Sides. We have sides now. We treat each other as enemies, not as fellow citizens, not as fellow Americans.

The rich and the powerful want it that way. They want racial tension, they want us to distrust each other. For only in that way can they continue to do their dirty deeds behind closed doors. Only in that way can they continue to line their pockets while we, the American people divide along imaginary, artificial lines.

It's called divide and conquer and believe me, it is a very effective tactic.

Wake up my fellow Americans, we're all in this together. I don't care about the color of your skin, the language you speak, or how you worship, we need to take our country back from the halls of power. Take it back from corrupt old men who seek only to benefit themselves and their cronies.


Let's take it back in November.
The people have no other remedy in this, as in all other cases where they have no judge on earth, but to appeal to heaven: for the rulers, in such attempts, exercising a power the people never put into their hands, (who can never be supposed to consent that any body should rule over them for their harm) do that which they have not a right to do. And where the body of the people, or any single man, is deprived of their right, or is under the exercise of a power without right, and have no appeal on earth, then they have a liberty to appeal to heaven, whenever they judge the cause of sufficient moment. And therefore, though the people cannot be judge, so as to have, by the constitution of that society, any superior power, to determine and give effective sentence in the case; yet they have, by a law antecedent and paramount to all positive laws of men, reserved that ultimate determination to themselves which belongs to all mankind, where there lies no appeal on earth, viz. to judge, whether they have just cause to make their appeal to heaven. And this judgment they cannot part with, it being out of a man's power so to submit himself to another, as to give him a liberty to destroy him; God and nature never allowing a man so to abandon himself, as to neglect his own preservation: and since he cannot take away his own life, neither can he give another power to take it.  - John Locke, Second Treatise on Civil Government, Chapter 15, Of Prerogative, Section 168

Here's a little tune from a talented lady. Tip o' the hat to Scott the Badger!

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Off Flamborough Head...

John Paul Jones by Charles Willson Peale (Source)
Two hundred and thirty seven years ago Friday, the Bonhomme Richard, commanded by John Paul Jones, Continental Navy, defeated HMS Serapis, commanded by Captain Richard Pearson, Royal Navy. I only remembered this when I received an email from Affiliated with the History Channel, which doesn't seem to do actual history anymore, the History Channel's website actually does. Every day I get a "This day in History" email from them. Very entertaining.

Though sometimes I wish it was a "Tomorrow in History" notification, give me time to get a post out on the day of, neh?

“The Action Between His Majesties Ship Serapis, Commanded by Capt Pearson & The Bonhomme Richard Commanded by Paul Jones, Sept. 23, 1779” by William Elliott,
US Naval Academy Museum Collection.
As I am exhausted (long week), frustrated (from work), and still sore from surgery (hey, I'm 63, it takes longer to heal these days) I gave the Muse the night off.

But Commodore Jones is a personal hero of mine, I actually almost built a model of the Bonhomme Richard when I was younger. I say almost because she was nearing completion when she went down in a Mom-squall quite unexpectedly.
If you don't want me to dust your models then you need to do it. Your room is a pigsty!
But Mom, you broke off the main topmast and damaged a bunch of spars. She'll never be right again. 
Not the first model ship to run afoul of people not knowing that plastic snaps if you push it too hard. She was my first model ship (a big one too, over two feet long she was) and hopefully not my last.
What? You want to spend over a hundred dollars for a model ship?
Ah but honey, it's the Constitution, she's fully rigged and comes with sails!
Where are you going to put it? The cats will destroy it.
I can keep the door closed and...
Forget it! Besides, your room is a pigsty.
Yes, once again I nearly struck my colors over that one. I hadn't even begun to fight, but HMS Missus Herself had the weather gauge and had me far outgunned. Best to slip away and resume the fight at another time.

Wife-squalls are far worse than a Mom-squall. I know these things...

Anyhoo, the Boat School has an excellent write up of the action here. The standard Wikipedia entry is here. I'd write more, but the Muse is out and all I want to do is quaff an ale or two and remember my lost ships. (USS Hartford was destroyed in the same squall which did for Bonhomme Richard. There's a reason they used to name hurricanes after the ladies!)

As Juvat is fond of saying, "Never give up! Never surrender!"

Friday, September 23, 2016

"An accomplished man and gallant officer."*

Self-portrait by Major John André, drawn on the eve of his execution. (Source)
On the 2nd of October, 1780, Major John André, Adjutant General of the British Army in North America, was taken from the house where he had been held after his court martial, and brought to the place designated for his execution. Upon seeing the gallows, the Major balked but recovered rather quickly. As an officer in His Britannic Majesty's Army, he had hoped that he would be put to death by firing squad, a death befitting a soldier. When asked by one of the officers escorting him to the gallows, "Why this emotion, sir?" André answered...
"I am reconciled to my death, but I detest the mode."
Moments later the 30 year old met his death with composure and bravery. One would have thought that the execution of a British spy would have met, perhaps not with rejoicing, but with some measure of satisfaction in that the death of Nathan Hale was now avenged. No, Major André's death was a solemn occasion, he was mourned by many, including his American adversaries.
While a prisoner, he endeared himself to American officers who lamented his death as much as the British. Alexander Hamilton wrote of him: "Never perhaps did any man suffer death with more justice, or deserve it less." The day before his hanging, André drew, with pen and ink, a likeness of himself, which is now owned by Yale College. André, according to witnesses, refused the blindfold and placed the noose around his own neck. (Source)
Growing up in New England it often felt like the American Revolution had been just yesterday, though not a single person alive when I was a kid could remember anyone that fought in that conflict. Nevertheless, remembering Lexington and Concord, Bunker Hill, Fort Ticonderoga, and the attack on Montreal were things we absorbed as kids. It seemed that the exploits of those patriots were still in the very air we breathed.

Of course, one image was in every school boy's mind when learning about the Revolution (yes, it is always capitalized). This one -

Captain Nathan Hale, about to be hanged by the British. (Source)
He was a young man, a New Englander by birth, and a school teacher. He volunteered to be a spy for General Washington. Unfortunately he was caught behind enemy lines in civilian clothes and was treated according to the custom of the times. On the 22nd of September, 1776, at the age of 21, Captain Hale was hanged as a spy. Without benefit of trial I might add, though in truth, the evidence to convict him had there been a trial was more than adequate.
From the memoirs of Captain William Hull, quoting British Captain John Montresor, who was present and who spoke to Hull under a flag of truce the next day: 
"On the morning of his execution," continued the officer, "my station was near the fatal spot, and I requested the Provost Marshal [William Cunningham] to permit the prisoner to sit in my marquee, while he was making the necessary preparations. Captain Hale entered: he was calm, and bore himself with gentle dignity, in the consciousness of rectitude and high intentions. He asked for writing materials, which I furnished him: he wrote two letters, one to his mother and one to a brother officer. He was shortly after summoned to the gallows. But a few persons were around him, yet his characteristic dying words were remembered. He said, 'I only regret, that I have but one life to lose for my country.'" (Source)
It was the custom of the time to bury men executed by hanging under the very gallows where they died. The exact location of Captain Hale's hanging has never been ascertained though there are a few sites in Manhattan which claim that honor.

So Captain Hale's earthly remains were lost. Yet his example, his spirit lived on and inspired many throughout our Nation's history. (Would that more were inspired by his example of selflessness and loyalty today.)

I grew up with that example. Another thing we absorbed as youths was a deep and abiding hatred of kings. And redcoats. The British soldiery were viewed by us with disdain and passionate hatred. The bloody lobsterbacks were monsters and oppressors. Or so we were taught.

I knew of Major André and his fate as a boy. We felt something akin to glee at the thought of this English beast balking at the sight of the gallows where he would "hang by the neck until dead." A firing squad? Bah, that was for honorable men, not redcoat spies consorting with the arch-traitor Benedict Arnold!

As one grows older, one learns, one discards the passions of youth for the reasoned logic of adulthood. One also forgets certain youthful hatreds and passions.

Sometime in the past few years I read a novel (I cannot for the life of me remember the title) which dealt with part of the Revolution, especially the British occupation of Philadelphia. Major André (a captain at the time) served General Howe at the time. As I remember the story, Howe was being recalled, in some disgrace, to England. Captain André decided to throw a great party for the General. Not everyone thought badly of Howe.

Well, this party which Captain André organized, was called the Mischianza (Italian for "medley" or "mixture") was thrown by Howe's officers and cost a lot of money. This novel made Captain André seem very foppish, a dandy, a fellow who wasn't much of a soldier.

I liked this book, it reaffirmed my own childish view of this most despised redcoat.

Then the series Turn: Washington's Spies came out. In that series (which is, as is typical of Hollywood, isn't very accurate from an historical standpoint) Major André is portrayed as quite a talented and great guy. Everyone seems to like him. He is talented as an artist and as a soldier. Particularly gifted as a spymaster. It is that which leads to Benedict Arnold, the attempt by the arch-traitor Arnold to turn West Point over to the British, and eventually leads to Major André's capture.

So who was Major André? Fop who consorted with traitors and deserved hanging because Nathan Hale had been hanged? Or talented soldier, doing his job, and just being in the wrong place at the wrong time?

I believe he was the latter. A good soldier and a very clever man. If the plot with Arnold had succeeded, the Revolution may have been irretrievably lost, Major André gambled. And lost. It happens. I have a much greater respect for the man than I did as a child.

Of course, I don't hate the redcoats anymore either. Those lobsterbacks did their duty as they saw fit, they obeyed their king. The patriots did their duty, answering to a higher ideal than a king on a throne in far off England.

In the years which followed the Revolution, we fought the British again. Time passed, loyalties shift, old ties are remembered. Eventually the United States and the United Kingdom became allies, friends even on many levels. We shared a common history up until the late 1700s, we still share a common language and have common interests.

Major John André, Adjutant General of the British Army in North America, deserves our respect, yes, even our admiration. He did his duty as he knew it.

One cannot ask for more than that from any man.

* From a letter written by Washington to Colonel John Laurens on 13 October 1780.