Thursday, November 22, 2012

Abraham Lincoln and Thanksgiving

Even during the most intense year of fighting during the American Civil War, Preseident Lincoln took time to proclaim a national day of thanksgiving.  Days of thanksgiving had been celebrated at various times in northern states since early colonial times.  Lincoln's proclamation estblished, for the first time, a national holiday set on a specific day in November.

Happy Thanksgiving Day to all my readers.  I hope that the Lord will bless you on this day that we have set aside to show our thanks to Him that provides all.

A Proclamation Establishing Thanksgiving

October 3, 1863

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften

No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.

It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and voice by the whole American people. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand, and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the city of Washington, this third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the independence of the United States the eighty-eighth.

A. Lincoln

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Ancient Bones in an Ancient Well

The Israel Antiquities Authority has announced a very significant find, with a mystery, in the Jezreel Valley. 

Surviving water wells from the stone age era are extremely rare.  This was a time when humans were first relying on agriculture and domestic animals to make a living.  As they settled down to farm, they could no longer rely completely on springs and streams to provide the water they needed to survive.

Yotam Tepper, of the Israel Antiquities Authority explained, "This was a period after permanent settlements and already been established and after the agricultural revolution and domestication of sheep, goats, cattle and wheat.  Now it became necessary to 'domesicate' water, too."

An Antiquities Authority archaeologist exploring the recent find.
Photo by Gil Eliahu

Wells from this period are a tangible evidence of a giant step forward in terms of human culture.  The well in the Jezreel Valley has been dated as one of the oldest in the world, to about 6500 BC or 8,500 years old. 

The well, which was discovered during road construction, was built with stacked stones at the top and the bottom was hewn into limestone - hewn by hand with stone tools.  The well is approximately 25 feet deep and 4 feet in diameter.  Capstones  covering the well recall Genesis 29:2, "stone upon the well's mouth."

8,500 year old bones recovered from the ancient well in the
Jezreel Valley.  Photo from Israeli Antiquities Authority.

The well was silted in at some point early in its use and has become an unintentional time capsule.  Arrow heads, animal bones and flint tools associated with harvesting crops all helped in dating the well.  Other signs in the region confirm that this part of Israel may have been one of the first places in the area where people settled down and turned from hunting and gathering to agriculture for subsistence.

The biggest surprise was what was found with the lost tools under the layer of silt.  The skeleton of a young woman and a man aged 30-40 were found tossed into the well.   Did they die in some tragic accident, or were they murdered and thrown into the shaft?  Were the deaths from a domestic dispute or the result of waring tribes?

 "There is no evidence that they were buried in a regular fashion.  There is a story here, but we don't have answers," Tepper said.  "What is clear is that after these unknown individuals fell into the well, it was no longer used for the simple reason that the well water was contaminated and was no longer potable." 

The well was abandoned when the bodies were thrown in.  It was later covered and its location lost.  That is why it has been left unused for over 8,000 years.
The full story can be found here:

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

How the Guillotine Helped to Create the Modern Restaurant

The next time you’re at your favorite cafe, raise a glass to the aristocrats who lost their heads so that you could enjoy your foie gras.

France gave birth to what we call today a  restaurant.  But it was no civilized affair. In fact, today’s restaurant business is actually a byproduct of the class warfare that arose during the French Revolution. 

Back in the Middle Ages, fine dining was a privilege enjoyed exclusively by feudal lords who had their own grand kitchens and personal chefs. The only commercial eateries for the masses were seedy roadside inns, where strangers crowded around mediocre buffets of tepid roasts, stews and over-sauced legumes. But sometime in the 1760s, the merchant class of Paris developed a taste for healthy light broths known as restoratives, or restaurants. By the 1780s, this new Parisian “health food” craze led to a handful of reputable dining halls, where customers could sit at individual tables and choose from a wide range of dishes.

Ironically, the popularity of these restaurants grew at a time when the bulk of the French population couldn’t afford bread. Decades of harsh winters and oppressive taxation had taken their toll on kitchen tables. Worse still, the greater part of the nation’s tax dollars had gone to pay for the excesses of the aristocracy and monarchy, including helping to finance the American War of Independence. By 1789, the starving French masses could no longer be controlled. Looting and riots erupted throughout Paris, ushering in the French Revolution.

Aristocrats fled to the countryside, leaving behind their highly skilled chefs and the fine wines from their cellars. Suddenly, unemployed cooks and abandoned bottles found their way to the city’s eateries, and within a year, nearly 50 elegant restaurants had popped up in Paris. These epicurean temples catered to the new class of French deputies and businessmen and were featured in travelogues throughout Europe. As word of their deliciousness spread, Parisian restaurants became tourist attractions on par with Notre Dame.

Admittedly, fine dining hit a rocky period during the Reign of Terror of 1793-94, when anyone suspected of ties to the aristocracy risked facing the guillotine. One unfortunate proprietor hung a sign over his door that read, “We welcome people of the best sort.” The elitist sentiment quickly landed him in prison. Still, he was the exception. Most Parisian restaurants kept up a lively trade, their tables replete with fine hams and pates. And most patrons felt safe enough within their walls to joke about Robespierre, the grandmaster of the Reign of Terror, and how he couldn’t afford to send his spies there.

The restaurant business truly came into its own during the early 1800s, after the upstart general Napoleon Bonaparte seized control of the country and granted “freedom of pleasure” to all citizens. Napoleon reasoned that people who were focused on Champagne and sauce reductions probably wouldn’t conspire against him. A few years later, when Napoleon’s military conquests brought fantastic wealth to Paris, restaurants began to compete for customers with marble décor and salacious entertainment. One establishment featured bare-breasted women dressed as Amazon warriors, who were lowered from the ceiling in golden chariots.

In the end, many more Frenchmen dined out than could actually afford the experience. Oddly, it became almost commonplace for customers to steal knives and spoons. One waiter at the upscale restaurant Naudet’s spotted a patron pocketing the flatware and politely handed him a bill that included “Cutlery, 54 francs.” The customer paid up cheerfully, tut-tutting, “How dear things are getting these days…” But this only goes to show how far restaurants had come. In less than a century, fine dining went from being the exclusive privilege of people born with silver spoons in their mouths to a must-have for people who stole them.

This is a re-blogged adaption of a story by Tony Perrottet you can read here:
--brought to you by mental_floss!

Friday, November 2, 2012

World War II Skeleton Still Carries Secret Code

Skeleton of a carrier pigeon, that is!

Reblogged from:

WWII Carrier Pigeon Finally Delivers Secret Message

Secrets from World War II may have been found in a coded message attached to the skeleton of a carrier pigeon found in an English chimney.

The bird was found when David Martin in Bletchingly, Surrey, was renovating his fireplace.

Martin told the BBC that he began “pulling it down, pulling it down…then the pigeon bones began appearing one by one by one. Down came the leg with the red capsule on with a message inside.”

Martin called the discovery unbelievable and his wife was so delighted with the 70-year-old surprise she said it was like “Christmas.”

Theories suggest the bird was making its way from behind enemy lines, perhaps from Nazi occupied France during the D Day invasions heading toward Bletchley Park which was Britain’s main decryption establishment during World War II.

Others say the bird likely got lost, disorientated in bad weather or was simply exhausted after its trip across the English Channel and landed in the Martin’s chimney.

More than 250,000 carrier pigeons were used in World War II. They were called the National Pigeon Service and were relied on heavily to transport secret messages.

During the war the Dickin Medal, which is the highest possible animal’s decoration for valor, was awarded to 32 pigeons, including the United States Army Pigeon Service’s G.I. Joe and the Irish pigeon Paddy.

Government code breakers are working to read the message found in Martin’s chimney.
Colin Hill from the Bletchley Park pigeon exhibition told BBC, ”I thought no way on earth can I work this one out.”

They have determined so far that the message is from a Sgt. W. Stott and that it was written 70 years ago.
A more detailed version of the story can be found here:

Thursday, November 1, 2012

With the Black Scarves at Bong Trang - Part 2

“The First Infantry Division Headquarters named it the Battle of Bong Trang, but those American soldiers who made war there will always call it 25 August.  That is the day in 1966 that my unit fought the Phu Loi Battalion. . .” William J. Mullen III
Captain William Mullen’s Charlie Company of the ½ Infantry was not technically surrounded, although fire was coming from all directions.  But Mullen was not in a defensive frame of mind.  He continued to press the attack in areas of his line and asked his Battalion Commander, Major Richard Clark, to hold off on the reinforcements so that close air support and artillery plaster the enemy.  Major Clark, who could see more of the fight unfolding from a helicopter, declined Mullen’s suggestion and hurried his A Company and B Company to the rescue.  Clark remained in the air where he could see and control the entire fight.  Troop C of the ¼ Cavalry also linked up with B Company for the race to the sound of the guns. 
C Troop of the 1/4 Cav move out on the morning of August 25
Charlie Company had been fighting for almost four hours before Captain Johannsen and B Company found their way through the tangled jungle and into the clearing.  Only the sound of firing and circling helicopters allowed Johannsen to find his way to the beleaguered Mullen.   Heavy automatic weapons fire and mortars pinned them down almost immediately.  Captain Johannsen was wounded by grenade fragments and his intelligence officer, Captain George Downs, took command.  B Company made three unsuccessful attempts to break through to Charlie Company.  Only fourteen men made that last charge.  By then, Captain Downs was wounded and the battalion communications officer, who accompanied B Company, was in command.

Eventually the C Troop of the ¼ Cavalry broke through in their tanks and APCs.  Captain Slattery of the Cavalry found dead and wounded littering the ground and that men had become separated from their platoons and squads.  Hank Stewart of the 1/4 Cav recalled, "2 tracks from C Troop had been knocked out by RPG and 57 recoilless. The crews were all dead. We took up forward positions and our one tank began firing canister into the base camp. We returned fire with .50 cal and M60s. The platoon leaders TC, Sammy Larkin was killed. Lt. Klippen shouted over the radio to "burn the piss out of those treetops".  He was killed right after that."

The 1/2 Infantry Black Scarf worn by PFC John Johnston in Vietnam
An Air Force medivac helicopter had already been shot down in the clearing, blocking the small landing space.  Slattery suggested to Mullen that the wounded be evacuated to a landing zone 400 meters to the east of the clearing.  The Cav’s APC were put into service as ambulances and began shuttling the wounded to the new landing zone.  More medivac helicopters, still landing under sporadic fire, transported them out of the fight to safety. 

Harry Guenterberg rode into the clearing with B Company about noon on August 25.  He was one of only 14 men still standing after his Company made three assaults trying to break into to assist C Company. Harry was also present at the genesis of the black scarf.   He watched Ltc Prillman tear a square of  black cloth from a table in a VC hut to make a sweat rag to go around his neck. That gave the commander the idea for making a scarf for each of his soldiers from a stockpile of captured VC black cotton.   Photo courtesy Harry Guenterberg
 Five hours into the fight and still a cohesive perimeter had not been carved out of the chaos.  The Phu Loi Battalion was tenacious.  The smaller American force was just as determined, but the pressure was too great to consolidate their position.  COL Sydney Berry, the Brigade Commander was impatient.  He ordered Major Clark, the ½ Battalion Commander to take charge on the ground.  Clark and Berry’s UH-1s arrived at the landing zone almost at the same time, and they headed on foot to the clearing together.  As they huddled together to discuss their plans a blast of machine gun fire sent them sprawling.  Berry was unhurt, but Major Clark was dead with a bullet through the skull. 
Although it was a battalion level fight at that time, the Brigade Commander felt he had no other choice but to take command on the ground.  Colonel Berry later recalled that he “ran around like a crazy man getting things moving.”  Because he could no longer see the big picture, he had his Operations Officer who was orbiting in a helicopter, coordinate fire support and move reinforcements to the fight. 

The fight intensified as Berry’s other battalions arrived on the scene and entered the battle.  The 1/26 overwhelmed enemy positions on the east flank; 1/16 Infantry attacked from the west and 2/28 Infantry set up a blocking position to the north of the clearing.  As the 1/26 and the 1/16 made initial gains, Colonel Berry ordered them to shift their axis of attack to link in with Captain Mullen’s ½ Infantry who were still being “chewed to pieces.”  Mullen recalled “Captain Jim Madden, commanding B Company of the 26th, one of the first units to fight its way into our location, received a serious wound almost as soon as he reached us.  He nevertheless broke away from the medics in order to apologize to me for having to leave the fight.”

The 1/16 turned north and immediately encountered a well camouflaged bunker system with interlocking fire.  Viet Cong Heavy machine guns, recoilless rifles, mortars and small arms raked A Company.  Within minutes the commander, Captain Peter Knight, was killed and all of his platoon leaders wounded.  1/16’s attack ground to a halt, but as they reorganized the enemy in their immediate front fled from their positions.

As the 1/16 Infantry’s attack wound down, Ltc Paul Gorman commander of 1/26 Infantry, arrived in the clearing with the last of the American reinforcements.  Berry’s entire brigade was now in contact with the enemy.  As Gorman made a triumphant entry on a M48 tank, Berry climbed aboard to shake his hand.  “A machine gun opened up on us, and we unceremoniously scrambled off the tank, dashed across the clearing, and jumped into a VC trench I was using for my CP,” Berry recalled.  Berry left Gorman in command on the ground and returned to resume control of his brigade. 
Night falls quickly in the jungle.  As darkness enveloped the Americans they hunkered down and allowed artillery and a flare ship to keep the battlefield illuminated throughout the night.  The Phu Loi Battalion made no further coordinated attacks.  They were satisfied to wait for an attack in their underground bunkers and send sporadic harassing fire into the American lines.

The early morning of August 26th found Colonel Berry back on the ground at the clearing.  The enemy was still hunkered down in their bunkers.  He wanted them out of the ground where he could kill them, but did not want to send his battered troops in a frontal assault to root them out.  Too many good men had been lost the day before.  Berry and Ltc Gorman decided to call a napalm strike in the bunker system sandwiched between his 1/16 and 1/26 Infantry battalions.  The eleventh canister struck a tree and sent jellied flames across Gorman’s CP, burning a map from the scrambling commander’s hands.  "My map and radio were literally burned up," Gorman remembered, "and I got singed a bit.  I asked that they keep laying the napalm on, and they did."  Gorman watched helplessly as a later canister fell short, into the American lines.  Two Americans died and fourteen were injured in the flames. 

John Johnston recalled the incident.  "Our Air Force dropped napalm on us because some dumbass threw a red smoke grenade out when we marked our position with smoke.  When they dropped the napalm, the gooks left."  Gorman halted the air attacks.  Despite the horror of the American casualties, the napalm had done what was intended.  The Phu Loi Battalion was retreating and leaving their base camp to the 1st Brigade. 
The 1st Brigade spent the remainder of the day mopping up VC stragglers as they scoured the jungle north and east of the clearing.  Early in the day, nine men from the original lost patrol limped into the landing zone.  They had survived by hiding deep in VC bunkers with the  enemy all around them.

John Johnston lived through the twenty four hours of hell that was August 25.  Like many of the men who survived this fight, it is still burned into his psyche.  John later became the "RTO" and carried the platoon sergeant's radio.  He performed the same service for his platoon leader before he was offered a job in the Brigade mail room for his last month in country.  He turned it down ". . .because I was too proud to quit.  I told them about another guy who needed it worse than I did."  John received a Bronze Star for valor for his actions on August 25th.  His citation reads in part: 

Private First Class Johnston noticed a claymore mine set up in the path of his advancing comrades.  Realizing the imminent danger, he courageously rushed forward into a heavy barrage of mortar and automatic weapons fire and deftly disarmed the mine.  Later in the same afternoon, PFC Johnston personally led several members of his platoon in a grenade assault of Viet Cong occupied trenches and bunkers.  They were successful in routing the enemy.

John told me many years ago that "deftly disarmed the mine" meant that he laid the electrical wire across the butt of his M16 and hacked it with his bayonet!  It worked. 
18 year old PFC John Johnston (left) wears his newly won Bronze star with other veterans of Bong Trang. 
Photo Courtesy of the John Johnston
 Johnston was one of many men who were decorated for actions at Bong Trang.  Captain William Mullen and Ltc Paul Gorman were awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.  Mullen, Gorman, and Berry all became general officers later in their careers.

Captain William J. Mullen III receives his Distinguished Service Cross from General William Westmoreland
during a ceremony after the battle of Bong Trang.  Probably one of the few times were a 1/2 Infantry
 black scarf was cleaned and pressed!  Photo from:
All battles come with a human cost.  For Vietnam War standards, August 25 was a murderous day.  The 1st Brigade of the First Infantry Division lost 43 killed and 248 wounded.  C and B Company of 1/2 Infantry sustained the lion's share of these losses.  Captured documents later revealed that the Phu Loi Battalion lost 171 killed at Bong Trang and their wounded filled VC medical facilities in the region.
AUTHORS NOTE:  I have one other connection to this story.  When I served with the First Infantry Division in the early 1980s, Colonel William J. Mullen III was my Brigade Commander.  Colonel Mullen was well liked and respected by his officers.  His part as a young captain in this battle so many years before, and the fact that he was a recipient of the Distinguished Service Cross (second only to the Medal of Honor in precedence) was unknown to us.  He was a level headed and humble commander, who expected the best from his men.