The four little engines that could

I’d like you to meet the USS Allen. Named after Commander William H. Allen, a hero in the War of 1812. The concept of a ship called a “destroyer” was hardly 20 years old when this one was built in 1916. She escorted the first wave of the Expeditionary Force to France, then was based in Queenstown, Ireland (where this picture was taken.) After the end of the War to End all Wars, she then escorted the Washington and President Wilson to France.

After an uneventful couple of decades she narrowly escaped being transferred to Great Britain in 1940. In December of 1940 she proceeded to Pearl Harbor and was there on the morning of December 7, 1941. Commander D. B. Miller says in his report:

Two planes were definitely shot down by this ship’s fire – one by Gun No. 6 and the second by starboard waist 50-caliber. The latter plane exploded in mid-air and was seen by bridge personnel to fall between USS Detroit and Ford Island. The former fell in hills about one mile northwest of AIEA mill stack. Our fire persisted for approximately 45 minutes, expending 57 rounds of 3-inch and 600 rounds of 50-caliber. It is possible a third plane was shot down by Gun No. 6, although fire from other ships were also concentrated on it.

She stayed at Pearl on anti-submarine duty and on the 27th of Dec. rescued 12 men from a merchant ship that had been hit by an enemy sub.

Then in early June of ’42 they received orders to steam toward Midway. As they set out, they had no idea that the most epic sea battle in history had just taken place. But, when they arrived, they would pickup survivors of the USS Yorktown, the flagship of the Operational Commander Admiral Fletcher. (As it so happens, Fletcher’s second assignment was to the USS Allen in 1918.)

She served most of the remainder of the war either at Pearl or running back and forth from Pearl to San Francisco. She was the oldest Destroyer in service and the only “4-stacker” or “1000-ton” left afloat. Finally arriving at her final resting place in Philadelphia on September 13, 1945; she was sold to Boston Metals Co. for scrap. In November, the name was struck from the Navy list and no ship has been given that name since.

Before Pearl Harbor was ever attacked young Martin W. decided that he should join the service now, instead of waiting for what he felt sure was the inevitable. That way, he’d be released before the war ended, thereby spending less time in active service during war-time. And, he figured that the navy has to better than the Army because at the end of the day he’d have a bed to sleep in. So, he joined the Navy and found himself in Hawaii on Dec. 7, 1941. A mess-cook on the oldest Destroyer in the Navy; what a life! Those Japs really know how to make a mess out of a mess-cook’s life.

He had a young bride back in St. Louis. When they were kids, Irene and a couple of girlfriends had tried to get into the nearby Presbyterian church, but failed. One of them said, “hey, there’s a Methodist Church down the street and I know how to get in that one.” She’d been a Methodist ever since. The church was then, and still is, central to her life. Possibly more so since Martin passed away in 1995. She still attends each and every Sunday and has returned to attending Sunday School.

When she pulled this humble Sunday School teacher aside to say, “I’ve been attending church a long time and today…you really made me think about things…” well, it was simply the highpoint of all of my days of teaching.

The SBD and me

SBD and MeLovingly called Slow But Deadly, the SBD Dauntless Dive-bomber saved the world on the morning of June 4, 1942. I’m not quite sure why I’ve always had a penchant for this little airplane. I guess because of the unlikely story. And then when it was replaced online mid-war, nobody liked the new planes, they wanted to go back to the Dauntless. This is in Pensacola and I go see it every time we go down there. It saved the world you know.

Doolittle did a lot

63 years ago today a bunch of big airplanes loaded with bombs took off from an American aircraft carrier, flew over Tokyo and managed to drop a few of those bombs before crash-landing in China. The Doolittle Raid, as it has come to be known, was credited with lifting morale in this country after Pearl Harbor, and has been immortalized by Hollywood in Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo starring Spencer Tracy as James Doolittle. Most commentaries, like this one, stop there. A brave, spirited poke in the eye to the Empire of Japan, but militarily not much more. That couldn’t be more wrong.

At the very moment of the American bombing attack, the Japanese were debating whether or not to invade and take control of the little island of Midway. (So named because it was midway between Pearl Harbor and Tokyo.) It was held by the U.S., but had just a tiny airstrip and not much more. Would it even be worth the trouble? It would be easy to take, but then again, the Americans just might decide to take a do or die stand, in which case they could destroy our fleet like they had intended to do at Pearl Harbor. They just couldn’t make up their mind. So, after the Japanese Military had promised the emperor that no bomb would ever land on Japanese soil, you can imagine their embarrassment when Doolittle flew over. Let’s just say that it was an easy decision for them after that. They had to take Midway.

Two months later the Battle of Midway took place. I’ll write about that in June. But, during 5 minutes of this battle, the entire war in the pacific turned around, and the Japanese fleet was on the defensive. It was truly a miracle.

Sands of Iwo Jima

I know, you might be getting tired of all the World War II anniversaries, but they’re important. This one is the landing at Iwo Jima. I won’t go on about it, but it’s the one where the famous picture of the Marines raising the flag was taken. It’s also the one that a movie was made with John Wayne in which he gets killed. That’s always in the trivia contests. I’ll just post this link to a story that I liked. It gives a pretty good overview of the whole thing and why it matters. I hope you’ll read it. “Sixty years ago today, more than 110,000 Americans and 880 ships began their assault on a small volcanic island in the Pacific…”

Honor, bravery and freedom

Today, I ran across this story about the first Medal of Honor recipient from Iraq (there are none from the first Persian Gulf War). Sgt. Paul Smith was his name and I hope you’ll read his story. I’ve read many stories like this in my military history books and I’m presently reading a new book by Sen. John McCain called Courage,and it recounts a story of a Medal recipient from Vietnam (along with many other stories of courage; some outside of the field of war.) These stories are literally unbelievable. If you saw the scene acted out, you’d know you were watching a Rambo or Chuck Norris movie. But in the real scene, as with Sgt. Smith, the good guy dies. So what’s so special about that? Many men and women die in combat. Few will receive the nation’s highest honor. Well, you see, there’s this thing about it…(I quote from the above article.)

Since the Civil War, just 3,439 men (and one woman) have received the Medal of Honor. It recognizes only the most extreme examples of bravery – those “above and beyond the call of duty.” That oft-heard phrase has a specific meaning: The medal cannot be given to those who act under orders, no matter how heroic their actions. Indeed, according to Library of Congress defense expert David F. Burrelli, it must be “the type of deed which, if he had not done it, would not subject him to any justified criticism.”

So, in other words, the guy’s just crazy right? If Sgt. Smith would have pulled back and said, “We can’t (fill in blank),” no one would have thought the less of him. Instead, he saw that if he were to step into the breach, others could be saved. And that’s what he did. Sacrifice.

Sacrifice is what freedom is built on. Do not let a day go by that you don’t give thanks to those who have sacrificed for our freedom.

The Curse continues

Remember, it was a full lunar eclipse. Edgar Renteria, whose jersey number just happens to be 3, made the last out of the last game of the World Series to give the Red Sox their haunting victory of the Cardinals. Care to take a guess who else played with the number 3 on their jersey? That’s right, Babe Ruth as a Yankee wore the number 3. And now Edgar, one of the best shortstops in the league is going to the Red Sox! Why!? Why, Edgar, why!? You’re a sensitive guy; you won’t like it there! Can anyone doubt the curse continues?

Today also marks the 60th anniversary of the start of The Battle of the Bulge. It is still to this day the largest battle the US Army has ever fought. To sum it up, Hitler decided for one last giant push in an effort to split the Allies up and cut off big groups of them from supply lines and each other. Tactically, it was bold but never had a chance of ultimately working. If you think conditions in Iraq are tough, these soldiers were in horrible, dismal conditions. Read some stories of some Medal of Honor winners from the battle here.

A few thoughts on Pearl Harbor Day

I can’t remember a time when I didn’t think of Dec. 7th as Pearl Harbor Day. I have an early memory, perhaps I was seven or eight, of being in Sunday School one morning when the teacher (Mildred, who still worships with us every Sunday; I think she’s about 100 years old) asked for the date. I spoke up loudly, “It’s Pearl Harbor Day; Dec. 7th.” Many books, films and TV shows were to follow; it became part of the cultural mythology that has informed my world-view.

Now, it’s rather difficult to express just how much the event shapes my world-view. Well, OK, I’ll try, if you insist.

The attack on Pearl Harbor thrust the US into World War II. That war was, according to the Wikipedea, “the most extensive and costly armed conflict in the history of the world.” And, so it was. Most people alive today have no concept at all about the scope of it. Not just how it affected everyday life, but what held in the balance. This was the event that ended the America First Movement, as well as the era of the big Battleship.

It was the event that would shape the geo-political globe until another suprise attack shoved it into a different direction on Sept. 11, 2001. If anyone wanted to listen, Churchill immediately grasped the situation right after the attack. He said, “Now at this very moment I knew the United States was in the war, up to the neck and in to the death. So we had won after all!…Hitler’s fate was sealed. Mussolini’s fate was sealed. As for the Japanese, they would be ground to powder.” Yes, that’s right, he was happy about it. Remember, his war had been going on for a couple of years already, and things were looking pretty dismal. This was the beginning of the end in his view. And so it was, just four years later, the war was over, the world turned upside down. And for the first time, the victors of a war decided the best thing to do to keep this from happening again was to restore the economic vitality of the vanquished. Inter-national wars have been small and rare since.

Over simplification? Sure, but the facts are that the Attack on Pearl Harbor set in motion huge global forces that put us where we are today. A generous understanding of these forces would be of great help in understanding events of today.

Winston Churchill’s birthday

John and Rob, two of my brother-in-laws, and I once had a discussion about who was the “Man of the Century?” The 20th century, that is. I said Dwight Eisenhower and John said Winston Churchill. I don’t remember if Rob put his two cents in. Well, I found this quote from Ike on Churchill: “[he] came nearer to fulfilling the requirements of greatness in any individual I have met in my lifetime. I have known finer and greater characters, wiser philosophers, more understanding personalities, but no greater man.” That’s saying a lot coming from what I consider to be one of the greatest men of the century. On the anniversary of Churchill’s birthday, take a minute to read this short article. And, if you don’t know much about him, read this entry from the Wikipedia.

Spring Concert

(This was from last week one night when our DSL was down.)

When I was in high-school, the words “Spring Concert” brought pure joy to my life. It was usually the biggest concert of the year. It was certainly the most interesting musically. Tonight we went up to Metro High to hear Emily’s Spring Concert. It was quite good considering Metro is an academic school and not a performing arts school. Before the Concert Band came out we were treated to Chopin’s Etude in Eb, one of my favorites. The Jazz Band then came out and they were very good too. Then the Concert Band finally took the stage. Emily is playing 1st Flute, second chair this year and next year she’ll be first chair. Not bad for someone who “hates” band. They played about eight pieces or so. One of them was called “At Dawn They Slept.” This is taken from the book, “At Dawn We Slept” which is about the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. A musical representation of the Pearl Harbor Attack? Interesting.

Emily knows how I feel. Nothing would make me happier than if she loved music and band and wanted to pursue it in college, but she doesn’t. She does have talent and natural abilities, and that may come back to center stage someday, but for now, she’s intent on Pre-Med and I think that’s great.

The Post-Dispatch finally reviewed the show at the Fox that was last Wednesday evening. Turns out one of the writers’ kid was there performing. Here’s a link to the story. He pretty much had the same reaction I did.