Tuesday, November 26, 2013

It's very unfortunate...

...that just two weeks after I encourage everyone to attend the Gettysburg Illumination, it is canceled because of the weather. Cold, windy conditions blasted the entire region on Saturday. The parade went off well. The dedications throughout the field went off well, and it seemed like the illumination would conclude an excellent 150th anniversary commemoration event.

20-25 mph winds, with even higher gusts, made the illumination impossible. The luminaries wouldn't stay upright, and even if they would have there would have been no way to light them or to keep them lit.

It was a disappointing end to what had been a great weekend. Let's hope the weather in Sharpsburg on December 7 is better. The Gettysburg illumination would have had over 3500 luminaries. In Sharpsburg on the Antietam Battlefield, they light over 23,000. It would be tragic to see the event delayed or canceled.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Galtroops re-visited!

I didn't attend a whole lot of the 150th anniversary events in Gettysburg this year. I have no hard feelings or animosity about it, but living where I do I can go to the battlefield just about any time. With the traffic and the crowds, I thought it better to stay away and to allow those coming to see it from afar to enjoy it. They can have their days, and I'll have mine. None are more significant or special, because I don't see why any one anniversary, or any day for that matter, is more significant than others. Dates and anniversaries are merely numbers that we arbitrarily attach significance to for some reason, but any time we remember the cause, the fighting, the brutality and the sacrifice we are doing the right thing.

But I diverge from my point. Back on track.

I saw photos from the two anniversary Gettysburg battle reenactments, and actually the farb and the "anything goes mentality" wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. I see worse every weekend strutting their stuff on Steinwehr with ill-fitting hoopskirts, ankles showing, overly-fancy uniforms and bad hats, or passing the "Ghost-story spiel" as historic fact, and claiming to be properly historically attired while doing so.

Then of course, there's the Remembrance Day parade. It happened this past Saturday, and though it is  a significant effort to honor those of both sides, I ask how much honor are we really doing when people repeatedly do things or wear things they know are historically inaccurate "...just because it's close enough!"?

Case in point: Galtroops. Women who want to be Civil War soldiers. Why? I don't know, because in the CW reenacting hobby there are many appropriate roles for women. If you don't want to be a camp follower or laundress, you can always be a field nurse, a sanitary or Christian commission worker, a refugee or displaced citizen, or just a local wanting to help feed the troops or care for the wounded.

During the Civil War, there are reports of women dressing in uniforms, enlisting and fighting as men. The key words in that last sentence are important, so we'll say them again, "...fighting as men." No one knows how they fooled the doctors to pass the physical, but these women assumed male identities and fought in the ranks.

If discovered and reported, they were drummed out of the armies and sent home. Albert Cashier, who in reality was the woman Jennie Hodgers, served for three years undetected and only revealed her true identity after the war. There also was an unidentified Confederate soldier found near the angle on the third day's assault near Gettysburg who was a woman in uniform.

In the Civil War reenacting community, women who dress as men often take very little effort to hide their genders. It often is blatantly obvious that they are women trying to serve a man's role. Is this acceptable? Perhaps at events, civilians should, after identifying women in the ranks, point them out to the officers or NCOs. Then, they could properly disarm the women, drum them out of the ranks and send them on their way. That would be realism! No one has the nerve to do it, though, because it would be bigotry, hatred, or discrimination, and even though we're passing fake history as the truth we can't risk hurting anyone's feelings.

So, the argument is made that in reality women did this, often serving with distinction. Take away the above facts about what would happen if discovered and let's look at sheer numbers. While no one knows for sure how many women served, the generally agreed upon number is 2,000. As many as 3,000,000 million men total served on both sides of the Civil War, so let's do the math.


Round it up to 0.1%, and you have roughly 1 woman in the ranks for every 1,000 men. Even assuming the numbers are off by a factor of 2, there should be no more than 2 woman out of every 1000 in the ranks. In a 5,000 person parade, there should be no more than 10 galtroops, and even that number is an over-estimate. In reality, to be historically validated, those 10 galtroops should be able to pass by the crowds undetectable as women. 

If you attended the Remembrance Day parade, please comment. How many woman did you see dressed as soldiers? A few? Several? Too many? Do you think there were more than 10? Did they seem to make a serious effort to conceal their gender by shortening their hair, hiding their chests, and walking like men, or did they just put on a uniform and go? 

What are your thoughts?

I didn't attend, but I've seen many photos, and I attended in years past. In some of the photos, and in previous parades, I counted upwards of 4-5 women in some companies of only 20 or 30 total troops, and often this happened repeatedly. Last year, I lost count at 126 women in a parade said to have 3,000 participants. That's shameful, and one of many reasons that history is being perverted in the name of political correctness. Those who do it or tolerate it should feel more than a small degree of shame, because there is no honor in telling lies and saying they're actually showing how it was.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

"A few appropriate remarks...

...delivered after two hours of speechifying."

150 years ago, during the dedication of the National Cemetery in Gettysburg, President Lincoln was invited to give a few remarks during the dedication. Coming on the heels of a two hour speech by Edward Everett, Lincoln's address was 10 sentences, 272 words, and lasted 2 minutes. Along with the thousands in attendance, Lincoln himself had no idea that his short oration would become one of the best known and most famous speeches of all time.

The reaction to Lincoln's speech were muted. Lincoln, after delivering his address, said, "It's a flat failure, and the people are disappointed." He could not have been more wrong. Even 150 years later, "The Gettysburg Address", as it has come to be called, became the focusing factor of the country in the Civil War. 

After more than two years of war, hundreds of thousands of casualties, and carnage previously unimaginable, the nation was growing weary. The people wanted peace, and the ultimate goal of the war was becoming cloudy. Lincoln changed all of that in two minutes on that November day in 1863. The focus was re-defined, the sacrifices were remembered, and the goal of total victory was restored.

The text of Lincoln's address is as follows:

"Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that this nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

Everett's response to Lincoln following the speech was one of praise for a job well done. Everett said, "I should be glad, if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes."

In a country that currently is undergoing its own struggle of divisiveness and political uncertainty, it is important that all Americans of all faiths, all national origins, and all political ideologies take a few minutes and reflect on the words of the 16th President. To borrow the words of someone more famous than any of us, "It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this."

Saturday, November 16, 2013

"The Legend Lives On...

...from the Chippewa on down of the big lake they call Gitchi Gumi..."

Overshadowed earlier in the week by the USMC birthday and the Veterans Day posts, I missed another historic moment. Revered in Great Lakes lore,and romanticized by songwriters such as Gordon Lighfoot, the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald was one of the largest maritime disasters in the history of Great Lakes shipping.

The Edmund Fitzgerald, nicknamed "Mighty Fitz" or "Big Fitz" was off to a rocky start from the beginning. It took three attempts to break the champagne bottle on her christening and she collided with a pier on launch, but went off to a 17 year run of great success. When launched on June 8, 1958 the Fitzgerald was the largest ship on any of the Great Lakes.

For 17 years the Fitz carried tactonite iron ore from Duluth, MN to Detroit, Toledo and other Great Lakes ports. The workhorse of Superior, she set seasonal haul records six different times. Affectionately known as the DJ captain, Captain Peter Pulcer was known to pipe blaring music through the ship's loudspeakers and to entertain spectators on the shore of the canals and rivers with running commentary on the ship as she passed by. The Big Fitz was a fan favorite, and people often came out in great numbers to see her and wave to the crew as she passed by.

All that would end on November 9-10, 1975, when the ship sunk in a massive gale while carrying 26,000 tons of tactonite. A series of problems and mishaps led to the sinking and the deaths of the 29 crew members on board. While no one knows the exact cause or sequence of events, it is known that the Fitzgerald was caught by an early November storm, battered by 50mph+ winds, and flooded by swells over 20 ft. tall that raked her from the side and swamped her decks. The Fitzgerald sunk swiftly, and at some point broke into two pieces, though it's not known for sure if the ship split while sinking or if it split when it hit the lake bottom.

Memorial services for the crew members lost were held in the Mariner's Church in Detroit. During the service, the church bell rang 29 times, once for each life lost. 

The ship's bell was recovered from the wreck in 1995 and was replaced with a replica which was engraved with the names of the 29 crew members. The original bell, along with other recovered items were displayed at a permanent memorial in Whitefish Point. After a series of controversies surrounding an attempted removal of the bell, it ended up on permanent display at the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum, also at Whitefish Point, where it is still today. The museum is a tribute to all of the souls lost on all of the Great Lakes.

Controversy over the wreck continues to this day, as new theories arise with regularity. None can be proven totally conclusive, so debate will no doubt continue.

Gordon Lightfoot brought this event to life in 1976 with his stirring folk ballad, "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald". It is a song as relevant and moving today as it was when released and is recommended listening for all.

Whether the mystery will be solved or not cannot be said with certainty. Regardless, it is a maritime tragedy, as are all lives and ships lost in the transportation of Great Lakes commerce. Never forget those who gave their all in a dangerous line of work, and never take for granted those who go to work knowing the risks. To them, it's not just a job and it's often not for the money. It's carrying on a tradition and a way of life.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

"Little Mac"

George B. McClellan, the two-time commander of the Union Army of the Potomac and Presidential candidate was a colorful, yet arrogant individual. Called the Little Napoleon, he always was finely attired and was very prim and proper. He was a man of organization, quick to train and often unwilling to fight. He was the man who after the Battle of Antietam proclaimed the army had won a great victory and driven the enemy back to Virginia.

McClellan was relieved of command after the failed Peninsular Campaign, but was brought back after the debacle of the Second Battle of Bull Run. In response to the return of Little Mac, Lincoln told his secretary, John Hay, "We must use what tools we have. There is no man in the Army who can man these fortifications and lick these troops of ours into shape half as well as he. If he can't fight himself, he excels in making others ready to fight." 

A great joy spread through the Army of the Potomac when the soldiers heard that Little Mac was back in command. McClellan's joy would again be short-lived, as his habit of over-estimating the enemy's strength and failing to fully commit to battle would ultimately lead to lost opportunities and more problems with the administration. Lincoln accused McClellan of having, "...a case of the slows..."

Why a post about McClellan today? Today is a significant day in the lore of the Little Napoleon. It was on November 13, 1861, after becoming frustrated with McClellan's failure to attack Confederate forces near Washington, and after the Union loss at the Battle of Ball's Bluff, that Lincoln sought to have a meeting with McClellan. Lincoln went to visit McClellan at his home. Lincoln, however, was snubbed by McClellan. After waiting on the general for nearly a half hour, Lincoln was told by one of McClellan's servants that the general had gone to bed. 

Sunday, November 10, 2013

On the eleventh hour...

...of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, World War I ended when the Armistice took effect. Germany was totally defeated, though they never actually surrendered. The war would officially end six months later with the Treaty of Versailles. Though the terms of the treaty were considered unfair by many Germans and ultimately led to the rise of fascism and World War II, the 5th deadliest conflict in World history ended. Over 10 million military personnel were dead worldwide.

Celebrated by many nations annually as Armistice Day and Remembrance Day, in 1954 Dwight Eisenhower signed into law a bill that officially that changed Armistice Day into a national day of remembrance for all veterans in the US. Celebrated annually, Veterans Day honors all veterans of all wars. 

Why do we honor our veterans? I actually was asked this question by an adult who had no idea last year. I explained that a veteran is a man or woman who loves his our her country so much that they write out a blank check to government with payment up to and including their life. I don't think he got it.

Veterans fought against all odds to create this country. Veterans fought to keep it free, to unite it when divided, and helped free the World twice. All paid a price in misery, and many paid with their blood, sweat and tears. More than a few paid the ultimate price. We could not be who we are if they did not do what they did. They continue to be willing and ready to fight, and to defend the country and its people, even if it means giving their own lives in the process. We owe them everything.

If you're ever outside and you think it's too cold, remember the soldiers in the Battle of the Bulge. If you ever think you're too hot, think of the men sweating on the islands in the Pacific, in the jungles of Vietnam, in the fields of battle in the Deep South, inside a stifling hot tank, or in the deep recesses of the boiler rooms of countless naval vessels. If you're hungry, again think of those fighting to push back the Bulge, those in countless enemy POW camps, those encamped at Valley Forge, or those under siege at Khe Sahn. Compared to what they were forced to endure, most of our lives have been a breeze.

What did they ask for in return for their service? To paraphrase a line from the fictional John Rambo, they only want their country to love them as much as they love it. So, if you see a veteran, not just today but on any day, thank them for their service and shake their hand. It's a small gesture, but you'll be surprised at how valuable it will be.

"One, Two, Three, Four...

...United States Marine Corps!"

We're going to do something a bit different today. I'm breaking with the usual way of doing things and am making the same post on both blogs, as I feel the topic is that significant.

10 November 2013 marks the 238th anniversary of the USMC, so this post goes out to all who wear or have ever worn the Eagle, Globe and Anchor insignia. Founded on 10 November 1775 by Samuel Nicholas in Philadelphia, and being credited with having its first recruitment drive in the Tun Tavern in Philadelphia, the Marine Corps began when the Continental Congress formally authorized the formation of two battalions of naval infantry. Thus, a legend in military lore was born.

The Marines are regarded by many as the finest fighting force in the Untited States Armed Forces. Though their mission has changed, the Corps has been there in every conflict the US has ever been involved in, often leading the way and being "the first to fight!" A saying among Marines is that the single most deadly weapon in the World is a motivated Marine and his rifle.

During the World War II era, there was talk of defunding the Marines and disbanding them as a branch of military service. That all changed when five Marines and one Naval Corpsman, in a moment that they considered almost insignificant, made history on a small, ash-covered island in the Pacific.

In response to this photo, the Marine Corps was given new life.

  • The raising of that flag on Suribachi means a Marine Corps for the next five hundred years.  [James Forrestal, Secretary of the Navy; 23 February 1945 (the flag-raising on Iwo Jima had been immortalized in a photograph by Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal)]

Thus they were formed, fought, were re-born, and continue to lead the way in the fight today.

"Semper Fi!" Marines, and God bless you. May the United States Marine Corps live forever!

I have a father, and several good friends who are Marines. Even though they no longer serve, everyone knows they will always be Marines. The following photos are of figures crafted by me that were made to honor the Corps and those who are part of it.

Early-War Marine, with an '03 Springfield:

Marine in HBTs island-hopping in the Pacific, armed with a Thompson for close-range firepower:

And finally, one motivated Marine in camos, and with an M-1 Garand:

Thursday, November 7, 2013

One Candle Lit for Every Casualty

The 25th Annual Antietam Illumination is scheduled to take place on December 7, with a rain date of December 14. The pictures do not do this event justice. It is something everyone should see at least once, because only when you see the candles glowing in the darkness do you get a true appreciation of "America's Bloodiest Day." 

23,110 candles glowing in bags are evenly spaced throughout the fields where the fighting happened and the casualties were made. It begins at 6pm and officially ends when the last cars are let onto the route at 9pm, though many thousands of candles burn long into the wee hours of the morning. Hundreds of volunteers begin spacing out the luminaries early in the day and later lighting them. It is a well-coordinated endeavor. I can only imagine the complexities of not only organizing and planning such a task, but of actually pulling it off and making it a success. Big kudos go out to all involved.

The traffic line begins on MD Rte 34, with some people lining up many hours in advance. The two times I have gone have consisted of almost three hours waiting in line, and of a half-hour drive through the park. This is by no means a complaint, however. In this case, the ends truly justify the means. There is no way to drive thru this thing without coming away with a sense of sadness and of awe. 

I've read Google reviews and reviews on Yelp bashing this event as a waste of time, "a logistical nightmare", being unorganized, and so forth. My only question is if these people went to the same event that I did? It's hard to believe that they did. The traffic line is long, and it does take awhile to get through it and into the park, but you're warned of that ahead of time. Any such event that draws a large crowd requires patience.

Turning into the battlefield is an experience all its own. Drivers are advised to turn off their headlights, leave only parking lights on, and follow the vehicle in front. This is good advice, and it allows a better viewing for all involved. The route of the illumination is opposite the normal flow of traffic on park roads, but I feel it creates a more dramatic effect. The visitor's center and the Dunker Church are now near the end and are quite impressive when flanked by thousands of luminaries, as are the various cannons and monuments on the field.

I could ramble on for hours about this event; it's that good! I'll close here by saying that if given the chance, by all means go. As said before, I've been there twice. I also am planning, along with my good friend Jim Coyle, to go again this year. Let's hope for good weather!

Monday, November 4, 2013

The Gettysburg Illumination

The annual Gettysburg Illumination will be held again this year as part of the 150th Anniversary Remembrance Weekend festivities. This will be the 11th anniversary of the luminary event. 

From the Gettysburg Foundation website, for those who might like more info or to volunteer to help:

11th Annual Remembrance Illumination 
November 23, 2013 
Soldiers’ National Cemetery
5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. 

On the 150th anniversary weekend of the Gettysburg Address, the Gettysburg Foundation will light a luminary candle on each Civil War soldier’s grave in the Gettysburg National Cemetery. The candle lighting is a solemn commemoration of the sacrifices made on this and other battlefields. Please join the Gettysburg Foundation as part of this tribute by sponsoring a candle of by volunteering on the day of the event. 

Luminary candles can be sponsored by individuals or groups for $18.63 per candle. In order for the sponsorships to be in the program, they must be received by November 1, 2013. Sponsorships may be made “in honor of” or “in memory of” a person or a group and they are limied to one-hundred characters. Please note sponsorship in the comment box below. 

Volunteers are needed to help set-up, greet, and clean-up the cemetery. Set-up volunteers are needed from 3:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. Greeters may sign up for one-hour shifts at the Taneytown Road entrance and Baltimore Street entrance of Soldiers’ National Cemetery. Readers are needed to read the names of the fallen soldiers from 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Clean-up volunteers meet at 9:30 p.m. and assist until the cemetery is cleaned up. Volunteer spots are limited, please register early. Volunteers will be taken on a first-come, first-serve basis. If interested in volunteering, please e-mail Ann Swade, Events Logistics Coordinator, ataswade@gettysburgfoundation.org.

This is a very moving, very somber, and very emotional event. If you've never attended, it's really something you should check out. If you've been there before you know exactly what I mean. There's no way to come out of the cemetery and not be brought almost to tears when you think about the number of luminaries and that each one represents a life. The snuffing of the candles when the event ends is significant and in a way represents the snuffing out of a young life, in often before the person truly got to live. For many, going to war was the one great adventure of their lives; unfortunately a lot of those who went paid the ultimate price for their great adventure.

As seen in the photos, each grave in the National Cemetery receives a luminary candle and a flag. The event begins at sunset on November 16, and it ends with the closing of the cemetery at 9:30. Throughout the cemetery various reenactors and living historians will be paying respects and providing an honor guard. Greeters at the gates will welcome those coming in and answer questions. There also will be a name-reading of all of the Battle of Gettysburg dead in the cemetery.

Go to this event if you can, help if you can, and savor the experience. Much like the Antietam Illumination or a visit to the Holocaust Museum, you'll come out of it with a feeling of sadness and loss, but also a feeling of pride for what their sacrifices achieved.

Saturday, November 2, 2013


If you've tried posting comments previously and have had issues, please try again. The problem should be fixed. I didn't change my email address from the one I had when the blog began to the one I use now. If you are still having issues, please email or Facebook me and let me know. I can't fix it if I don't know it is broken. Thanks!

Friday, November 1, 2013

The Failure of Gun Control Laws Continues.

The shooting at LAX today was a tragedy, and blessings go out to all involved or affected by it. All criminal shootings in any circumstance, whether they are mass shootings or random acts of violence are tragic. Any time someone decides to commit murder, we have to ask why?

Today's shooting is another in the myriad shooting sprees that have occurred recently. Gun control advocates will be screaming for more laws, gun bans and magazine capacity restrictions. They always do. We must ask though, how would this have helped?

LAX is in California, a state with some of the toughest and most restrictive gun laws on the books. The airport terminal is a gun free zone. So, strict gun laws were in effect, and in this instance, all guns were banned. Yet, the shooting happened. A shooter entered the terminal lobby with a rifle and began shooting. Law enforcement got him, and casualties were minimal. It could have been much worse.

By the logic of the gun ban crowd, it shouldn't have happened. Gun laws supposedly prevent shootings. Gun bans supposedly prevent shootings. Both were in place and were being enforced by law enforcement on the scene. Once again, though, a motivated individual managed to get a gun in and use it to cause carnage.

It's no coincidence that the worst shootings seem to happen in places where guns are banned. Schools, military bases, movie theaters, post offices, and the list goes on. All are places where guns are banned. All are places where criminal shootings have taken place.

What additional laws could have prevented any or all of these shootings? None. Gun bans and gun control isn't the answer. Making people accountable for their actions, and severely punishing those who break the law will accomplish more than any gun law ever will. Rather than banning the tool, let's punish those who would misuse it.