Stella’s Game and Christmas 2019

By the time you see this, Stella’s Game: A Story of Friendships should be available as a Kindle book (ISBN 978-1-64550-698-0)…just $0.99 you cheapskates (or free for you Kindle Unlimited members)! Go have a look!

Back Cover of Stella’s Game: A Story of Friendships

Out of my depth, you say, YOU write about history. Well, this is history, really: a view of the 1960’s and early ’70’s as experienced by four young people living in suburban Detroit. It’s somewhat autobiographical; somewhat not. It’s the times I grew up in, and it’s a story that my wife might want to read, since she doesn’t read the rest of my stuff.

So the story begins, and in a few weeks you’ll be able to get the paperback (ISBN 978-1-64550-694-2) and the E-book. Stella’s Game, as I’ve said before, starts with young children, growing up amid the turmoil of the times. The guy in the picture? Yeah, he’s me; he’s eight and in 3rd Grade when Stella’s Game begins.

Growing up in affluence in the ’60’s didn’t make anyone immune from the chaos, but Stella’s Game could.

Money couldn’t save kids in the suburbs from the troubles of the ’60’s, especially in Detroit, but Stella’s Game did.

In the ’60’s, people lost respect for institutions, but not for Stella’s Game .

Before there were cell phones, before there was a World Wide Web, before Facebook and e-mail, and before people became fleshy appendages to electronic media devices, there was Stella’s Game.

Before there was Google, friends lost each other, but there was Stella’s Game.

When Stella dealt her Game, everyone were friends. Stella’s Game is home, a safe port in a roiling sea.  When she shuffled, the world took a seat, and the winds fell; as she dealt, the waters returned to calm. When the cards were dealt, troubles were gone.

Stella’s Game:  the eye of the storm where you are welcome and safe…she won’t have it any other way. The players become family.  No matter the argument–calm, cool, uproarious or explosive, Stella sits at her big round table and quietly to shuffles her cards.  As she shuffles, the boisterousness begins to subside, or the temperature slowly drops, and a calm descends on the room as the players take their place at the table, and Stella begins to deal her Game. Stella shuffles cards, and everything else gradually fades into the background. An aura of serenity envelops the room, unnoticed by the players–the subjects and participants–in the process. No one decides to put everything aside. they just play, and failure to take part is a heresy.

The players don’t bear witness to the process–they are a part of it.  Stella’s Game just happens.

Four kids experience the marches, the riots, the wars…and puberty and family quarrels and weddings and divorces and madness and death and birth…then they get to graduate from high school and move on to…well, that’s where Tideline: Friendship Abides takes over in 2020.

Christmas 2019

For all of my loyal readers–O you brave souls–I wish you a blessed and a Merry Christmas and a peaceful and prosperous New Year. Some of my messmates have paid the ultimate price for our freedom, but most have not. To all of my comrades in arms I say thanks for staying alive. I plan on putting out a blog at least twice a month for all of 2020, regardless of which grifter ends up in the White House.

Happy Holidays from the Front

I also want to take a few minutes here to say a special Happy Holidays to those of you who are in harm’s way, and living some version of the photo to the right. That could have been me more than once, eating my holiday meal in the boonies, shoveled out of a Mermite can and onto a paper plate, consumed with a plastic fork and knife.

Clare-Bear and Alex, 2018

This is the last photo I have of Clare, courtesy of her daughter. The boy is her grandson. I like to think that the best Christmas gift anyone could give Alex–who I’ve never met–might be to never feel the pain of his Clare-Bear’s passing.

At this time of year I want very much to think back with fondness, but…not this year. The passing of my Brown-Eyed Girl–to whom Stella’s Game is dedicated–was harder on me than I care to admit. I think of “better places” that she could be in and I just think that the best place for her has always been in my heart, if not next to me on the sofa. Her passing was devastating for those of us who loved her, especially Peter, Shannon, and Eric…and you know who you are. But, be at peace, Ware. We shall always think of you with fondness, gratitude and love.

Battle of Coronel, Author’s Day, and Stella’s Game

Yes, someone actually decided that authors were worthy of recognition. This happened nearly a century ago…when people were still reading and not waiting for the video.

Battle of Coronel: 1 November 1914

The Endless Game of Weapons Innovation

In the late 19th century, naval ship development was driven by two contrasting needs: beat the other fellow and do it cheaply. The “other fellow” was often hard to define, but the biggest challenge that European navies felt they faced would be merchant ships that their warships couldn’t outrun. Propulsion systems for merchant–especially passenger–ships of all kinds were being developed faster than the more hidebound, budget-conscious navies could adapt.

If this starts to look like a game of paper-scissors-rock, you’re got the right idea

In the mid-19th century, Russia built the first ship called an “armored cruiser” that was meant to show the flag powerfully at distant stations. This preceded by a decade or so the first armed merchant cruisers by that giant arbiter of naval fashion, Britain’s Royal Navy. Their idea was to take one of those speedy merchantmen and arm it to catch other speedy merchantmen. Then someone popped their heads up and announced to no one’s surprise that the enemy could make those, too. so the RN adapted the Russian idea of a powerful warship on a smaller hull but with great speed and range to counter the theoretical armed merchant cruiser menace. Then these ships got big, and fast, and powerful and in 1911 the RN came up with the third part of this deadly game: the battle cruiser. If this starts to look like a game of paper-scissors-rock, you’re got the right idea, but arms designers had done this for centuries at sea: this ship design to counter that one, then another innovation to overcome the next.

…the bosses back in Berlin were light on how this flotilla would survive on the other side of the world if the war went on more than a few months.

Then came WWI, and the game became deadly. Trapped in the Pacific at the start of the war was the German East Asia Squadron, led by Maximilian von Spee. Its mission was to raid enemy commerce in the Pacific in the event of hostilities. While a great idea for a short war, the bosses back in Berlin were light on how this flotilla would survive on the other side of the world if the war went on more than a few months.

So, after running more or less wild in the Pacific for a couple of months, von Spee decided to raid the coast of Latin America for a while. At the same time he realized that he’d run out of ammunition pretty soon, so he decided he’d hightail it for home around the end of the year. But the Royal Navy got in the way.

the German ships were manned by long-service professionals…the British by reservists just called up. German gunnery was renowned; British gunnery…not so much.

The Germans had two armored cruisers (see above) and three light cruisers (defined as a warship in size and power somewhere between that of a destroyer and of a bigger cruiser) with them, in addition to a number of auxiliaries and storeships. To counter this force, Britain’s Christopher Cradock commanded two armored cruisers, a light cruiser, an armed merchant cruiser and a pre-Dreadnought battleship. On paper it looks like the British had the advantage with that big battlewagon…but they didn’t because the battleship was too slow to keep up with the rest of the squadron. In addition, the German ships were manned by long-service professionals; most of the British vessels were manned by reservists just called up. German gunnery was renowned; British gunnery…not so much.

Battle off Coronel, Chile. British ships in red; German in black. Wikimedia Commons

The result was well within the realm of predictable on 1 November 1914. British losses were over 1,600 men and both armored cruisers, which were literally buried in shells. German losses were three men wounded. However, that was but one battle in a long campaign, and to win that fight the Germans expended half their irreplaceable ammunition. Any more commerce raiding anywhere would have to wait; von Spee decided to run for home.

It was the heyday of the half-century long race to outrun those fast armed merchantmen

But in this deadly game of paper-scissors-rock, the rocks were dispatched to break the scissors. Two battlecruisers arrived in the Falklands just in time to destroy the German squadron a month later. It was the heyday of the half-century long race to outrun those fast armed merchantmen, then to outgun those fast armored cruisers. It was also the last demonstration of this kind of deadly one-upsmanship, as the armed merchant cruisers were replaced in strategic importance by the submarine, making the armored cruisers and the battlecruisers strategically pointless.

National Author’s Day

The Unknown Author, plugging away…

Now you, too can honor at least one author…me…by buying at least one of my books. Or at least, by putting one on your list.

In 1928, Nellie Verne Burt McPherson, teacher, avid reader and president of the Bement, Illinois Women’s Club had an idea of setting aside a day to celebrate American authors. She did this because she sent a fan letter–remember those, not just likes on a page somewhere–and decided that mere thanks were not enough. She submitted the idea of an Author’s Day to the General Federation of Women’s Clubs–that’s still around, too–which passed a resolution declaring 1 November as National Author’s Day. The US Department of Commerce followed suit in 1949.

Stella’s Game: A Story of Friendship

Have a seat; we’re dealing Stella’s Game.

And here’s one you really should put on your list–Stella’s Game: A Story of Friendship, due for publication 3 December 2019. Stella’s Game follows four kids from 1963 to 1974; half their lives. It’s about friends, family, learning, challenging, fun and danger. It’s also the first volume in a trilogy that will follow these kids until 2001. Look for it in December.

Where We’ve Been, New Publishers, Stella’s Game and Labor Day

Well, we’ve been busy with a couple of non-fatal health issues, with saying goodbye to My Brown-Eyed Girl, with rebuilding the chronological database, with writing the Stella’s Game trilogy (of which, more later). That and a few actual PAYING jobs…you get the idea.

But now I believe I can get back to some sort of at least a monthly schedule with tidbits about obscure events and obvious, special days and the like. And of course the purpose for this blog–selling books.

Why the Samurai Lost is Now on Amazon

Cover for Why the Samurai Lost Japan: A Study of Miscalculation and Folly

JDB Communications, LLC, is pleased and proud to announce a new source for publishing: IngramSpark. Customers have complained about shipping costs from Book Patch, but no longer. Amazon Prime customers, of course get free shipping.

The Stella’s Game Trilogy

OK, it’s not what you’re expecting. I started writing a story that my dear wife would read–and might actually like. It kinda grew, now into three volumes.

Stella’s Game: A Story of Friendship starts in suburban Detroit in 1963 with four kids, four families…and the Kennedy assassination. It follows their lives for the next two decades–through Vietnam, and Watergate and everything around them–growing, learning, loving, interacting, suffering, mourning and dying. While there’s very little “action” in the sense of battle narrative or action scenes, there is some violence, though limited in scope. Expect Stella’s Game by the end of 2019.

Stella’s Game leads into Tideline: Friendship Abides, that starts in 1974 and follows the narrators through their careers (OK, I had to do it: three of the four are in the Army and one is in the Navy), their love lives (as restricted as they had to be in uniform then), and rediscovery. You’ll have to see it. Expect to see Tideline in early 2020.

Tideline then leads into The Safe Tree: Friendship Triumphs, which takes place in late 1986. There’s betrayal, conspiracy, two weddings, arson, a shooting or two, and old feuds. But, like the first two books, the friends…well, you’ll have to see it. Expect The Safe Tree sometime in 2020.

Labor Day 2019

Labor Day has always confused me, frankly: it’s a day celebrating labor by not working. Huh. Explains some of those union contracts…

Its’ origins are obscure and disputed, but it’s been the traditional end of summer since the early 20th century. It’s also been the landmark for many when school started again. When I was doing that…when the dinosaurs roamed the Earth…Labor Day was Monday; school shopping Tuesday; school Wednesday. Shopping for school stuff before Labor Day just wasn’t done, you know.

My Brown-Eyed Girl Clare and Rethinking

This is going to be maudlin, folks. Get over it.

UPDATE: Clare’s memorial in Detroit will be in the Oriental Garden (weather permitting) on 29 June, or the Kingswood Lobby if needed. The Grand Haven memorial will not take place. Contact me directly if you have questions.

I met my Brown-Eyed Girl in May of 1972 behind her house on Faculty Way at Cranbrook, one of the most exclusive private schools in the United States. We talked about…I have no idea what now, but I was smitten, hopelessly, by a warm, dimpled faculty brat who seemed to care about what I thought. And I didn’t know her name; I wouldn’t know it for a while.

For whatever reason I was in the dining hall, terrified for some reason and looking for a place to sit when Pete Dewitt, one of my housemasters, invited me down to his on-campus house and introduced his daughter, Clareann, who went by Clare…that warm, dimpled faculty brat.

And I kept coming back. I laughed with her older sister Karolyn and brother Peter, talked with her parents Peter and Elizabeth about my future, broke bread with cousins and grandmothers and felt as if I were family. They soon came to call me Friday’s Child because I came down from the dorms almost every Friday, even after I graduated in ’73 and joined the Army.

And I went to her brother Pete’s wedding in ’74…then to Clare’s in ’78. That hurt so much I thought I’d bust, but I had to be happy for her. I got a job in Wisconsin and moved, then sent her a plant when her daughter was born in May ’79. I saw her at Karolyn’s wedding that October, and she looked happy.

I kept coming back to the Dewitt’s on vacation. Next time I saw my Brown-Eyed Girl was December ’80, and she had separated from her husband. The next year I tried very hard to get us together, but she believed her family would have objected to any marriage between us. On April Fools Day 1982 I had my first date with my future wife, Evelyne in Wisconsin, and in one way or another, we’ve been together ever since. I hurt Clare when I told her that I had found the Girl of My Dreams, but we both agreed that we were impossible and she wished me well.

But as Evelyne well knows, my Brown-Eyed Girl was never far from my thoughts.

Clare and I didn’t speak again for seven years when she called me out of the blue. We talked off and on again for years; she called me when her father passed in ’99, and again when her mother passed in ’04. That time, Ev said, “let’s go.” So we went. And it was then that Clare told me that she’d completely misread her family’s attitudes towards me, right after I apologized for hurting her so badly 22 years before.

From such moments are whole movie franchises born.

We communicated regularly after that, trading visits to Michigan and Wisconsin, phone calls, emails, and texts. She made freinds with Evelyne–a blessing I still cherish–and came to my mother’s wake in ’12; I came to her sister Karolyn’s in ’15. That was hard on her because she’d often talked about retiring with Karolyn when the time came.

I last saw my Brown-Eyed Girl in June 2018, when we were in Detroit for my 45th reunion. As it happened, Pete’s wife of 44 years had just succumbed to cancer a few weeks before, and I saw then that something was broken in Clare. She was tired, working a job she had loved but no longer, and worn out from it. I had trouble connecting with her after that. Communications were always irregular, but she didn’t acknowledge my texts for her birthday, Christmas or New Year’s. After I tried calling after that; she finally called me back, said she was fine, worried about her brother. She didn’t sound fine. That was February.

On Monday 18 March 2019, my Brown-Eyed Girl Clareann Mersbach Dewitt Thompson passed away suddenly in her home in Ferndale, Michigan, the day after the 35th anniversary of my marriage to Evelyne. Her brother Pete called me the day after. I’ve spoken with her daughter Shannon and Pete since: there will be a memorial in early summer. I will attend, to say goodbye to my sweet Brown-Eyed Girl who was the first girl I ever loved who loved me back.

And every time I asked, she never remembered when we first met behind her house on Faculty Way…not that it mattered four loving decades later.

So long, kid. We’ll see you on the other side. I know we will.

Rethinking

Rethinking is allowed, especially when your database gets corrupted and your oldest friend dies suddenly.

For the past several years, I’ve been building a database of events on an Outlook Calendar. Today (February), when I started putting together the April blog entries, I discovered that the latest “improvement” to the online version of Outlook corrupted much of my data, effectively deleting hundreds of events and national days from the individual days by unhelpfully adding end dates to them. While I found ways to recover them, they are work-intensive and tedious–not how I wanted to spend my time.

Thus, I find a need to pause, reflect, and figure out what to do about this blog. The purpose is to sell books, which it has failed to do, regrettably. In a good week I get maybe 200 views, mostly on LinkedIn, and one or two likes. The blog itself has less than a hundred followers.

So who am I kidding?

Sure, I want to sell books…lots of books. Unfortunately this isn’t the way it’s happening. I either lack the sales acumen to make my work attractive to potential book-buyers, or I don’t write well enough to attract readers.

So the question is, what to do? The WordPress subscription ain’t cheap, and it ain’t paying for itself. What’s going to happen is I’ll change my plan this month, and what effect that has is unclear. The domain, https://jdbcom.com will stay around, and the archives will be here, but four or five entries a month? Eh, methinks not, not the way I’ve been doing it. Just how is a current mystery.

Fear not, regular readers (both of you); dead the blog shall not be. Transformed, maybe. Weekly, not in current content format, no. But this is April…perhaps by May I’ll figure it out.

Coral Sea and Midway Reconsidered

A fresh look

The Pacific In WWII

By the end of April 1942, the war in the Pacific had reached a tipping point. Though the physical damage was negligible, Japanese pride had been severely stung by the Doolittle Raid. At the same time, the Americans were contemplating their next moves to counter probable Japanese actions. Just what those actions would be was a matter of grave speculation on behalf of the Allies…sort of.

In the past few decades, much has been made of the American penetration of Japanese codes. While these breakthroughs were certainly important, the damage they did to the Japanese is somewhat nebulous, but not because the Allies knew what the Japanese were up to and when, but more because it revealed something of the samurai leadership’s mindset.

Japan’s military leadership was told that their fleet codes were compromised in February 1942, when submarine I-124—sunk 20 January 1942—was sunk more or less intact on the north coast of Australia and divers were able to remove the codebooks. Confirmation of this wasn’t until a long-range raid killed Yamamoto Isoroku out of Guadalcanal in 1943, but rumors were abounding before that.

What is not generally appreciated is that the Japanese didn’t much care if their codes were compromised or not—and in the event, they were not. The Allies had tried to get the code books in the submarine but couldn’t get in. That’s not what they told the salvage crews, who had a Japanese spy among them who duly reported what the Allies wanted them to report.

Japanese cryptographic operations had penetrated American diplomatic codes in the 1930s and had some successes with Russian, Chinese, British and French codes as well. Despite this, the Japanese often disregarded information based on intercepts if they did not align themselves with current plans and assumptions. In other words, if the Japanese had known that the Americans knew of their intentions around the Coral Sea and Midway, it likely wouldn’t have mattered to the Japanese at all.

This peculiar character quirk of the Japanese leadership needs to be remembered as the events surrounding May and June of 1942 are reconsidered.

The Coral Sea battle was triggered by the Japanese offensive against Port Moresby on the southern coast of New Guinea. To support that effort, and to further isolate Australia from the United States, the Japanese landed a small force on the Solomons island of Tulagi on 3 May 1942. While Tulagi lacked the large central plain that Guadalcanal to the south had, it was adequate for a seaplane base, and it was that seaplane base that excited the Allies so much. Japanese seaplanes were as capable of dropping bombs as a B-17 and had the range to reach New Caledonia. Their advance into the Solomons was an expedient, only a springboard for further movement: the IJN barely had the resources to put a thousand fighting men into Tulagi and Guadalcanal that spring.

Coral Sea area; Wiki Commons

The subsequent four-day battle of the Coral Sea has been called many things: Japanese tactical victory; American strategic victory; operational draw. It was all those, but mostly it saved Port Moresby from direct attack by the Japanese, a point many commentators overlook. It also accelerated what the US Navy was calling Task 1, which was securing communications with Australia. The New Guinea campaign, the Solomons campaign, and the New Britain/New Ireland campaigns were all to save communications with Australia…and arguably to keep Douglas MacArthur busy.

That’s an important point that many overlook. The politics of the US Army were such that only a few senior officers were available for the truly responsible posts. George C. Marshall was Chief of Staff of the Army as of 1 September 1939; in early 1942, Dwight Eisenhower was in the War Plans Division and was promoted to Major General in March, and was being considered for important field commands. After he was called out of retirement, MacArthur outranked (or had more time in grade on) both these officers until they were all given five stars in late 1945. If MacArthur wasn’t kept busy with holding onto the Australian base, he might have moved into either post…or tried to fill both: he had a modicum of political support after his “I shall return” speech. But few other officers had the organizational skills and the audacity that MacArthur had, so his presence in Australia was important. As Chief of Staff (again) or in Europe, his haughty attitudes would almost certainly have irritated the British to the point that Churchill might have refused to work with him.

Aside from turning the Japanese away from Port Moresby, the Coral Sea fight sank one US aircraft carrier, severely damaged another in exchange for one Japanese aircraft carrier sunk and one damaged. It was the first time that a major Japanese offensive was frustrated by American action. This battle had a peculiar effect on the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN): rather than reflect, they went into a panic mode.

The Eastern Operation—what the Japanese collectively called anything to do with Hawaii and the environs—was part of a plan to, once again, get the Americans to stop fighting and negotiate. The entire war was directed not to conquering the Americans—they knew they couldn’t—but to get them to come to a Versailles-style settlement whereby Japan’s assets would be released, all petroleum products made available, and American support for China would end. The Japanese reasoned that with Midway under occupation, they were much more likely to talk than fight. The destruction of the American carrier force was also a goal, but not as important as taking Midway—technically a part of the Hawaiian archipelago—as a bargaining chip.

The “Midway as bargaining chip” narrative has been around for years, and frankly, it’s wearing thin. Japan didn’t take territory to give it back: they’d had that done to them at the end of the Sino-Japanese War in 1894 when they had to give their territorial gains on the Asiatic mainland to Russia, Germany, and France. Nor were they likely to give too much of their territorial gains anywhere back to their original owners or colonizers without exacting a considerable price–perhaps too high. Japan was arable-land-poor, and among the many things she wanted in China was farmland and room to expand her burgeoning population.

The four days of the Midway battle have been well documented, but the depth of the Japanese disaster there cannot be over-emphasized. When they lost 40% of the carrier strength in less than 24 hours, they lost more than ships and airplanes: they lost the maintainers for the airplanes, which were as hard to replace as the hundreds of prewar-trained pilots. While Yamamoto also destroyed the American carrier damaged at Coral Sea and started to approach the American fleet with surface warships, he realized that the best he could do was sacrifice some light ships for fuel if the Americans just ran away. They no longer had to give battle if the Japanese carriers were all on the bottom. While he could have continued with the invasion—and possibly won—there would be no aircraft to put on Midway: they went down with the carriers. He may have also pragmatically known that Japan couldn’t long hold onto Midway, and its value as a bargaining chip was nebulous.

Taken together, Coral Sea and Midway stopped Japanese initiative in the Pacific, but it would be a long slog before the Allies could take advantage of it. The Solomons and New Guinea campaigns that followed were aimed at stabilizing communications with Australia. Those long battles of attrition ultimately put Verdun to shame in terms of duration and scope…another discussion.

Cover of Why the Samurai Lost Japan

All the above is based on the research that went into Why the Samurai Lost Japan: A Study of Miscalculation and Folly. Available now from The Book Patch in trade paper-bound and PDF, the Kindle and Kobo versions are underway. Why the Samurai Lost Japan isn’t as simple as they were outfought or out-numbered or even out-produced (thought they were all these things). Rather, Japan suffered from a deadly combination of hubris and cultural stifling that drove their dominant social group–the “militarists” who adhered to the samurai traditions–felt pressured to begin military adventures that they could barely support, let alone succeed in, starting in 1893. Japan spent much of her energies trying to catch up to the West in all things, but the creature that they created had limited utility and even less sustainability.

Fort Stedman and National Vietnam War Veteran’s Day

As March ends we call to mind the joys and laughter of the long winter season in the Great Lakes. We’ll miss the snow, the wind, the brutal cold, the ice, the back-breaking work, the short days…like we miss paper cuts.

Richmond/Petersburg siege lines, 1864-65 (Wiki Commons)

As the long winter of 1864-65 ground to an end in Virginia, spring was in the air, and so was defeat–and victory, depending on which side you were on. The Southern Confederacy lost its last working port, Wilmington, North Carolina, to Union forces in January. The army group that was the Union’s Military Division of the South under William S. Sherman had defeated every Confederate army it had encountered since it started campaigning the year before, taken Atlanta and Savanna, and was marching north into the Carolinas to join the Union forces in Virginia.

The Union forces, overall commanded by Ulysses S. Grant, had held the Confederacy’s premier commander, Robert E. Lee, and its best-known army, the Army of Northern Virginia, in place around the Confederate capital, Richmond, Virginia, for nearly a year. By March, after scores of battles over creeks, roads, redoubts and railroad lines, the Confederates were down to about 50,000 hungry and barefoot men to 125,000 men in George G. Meade’s Army of the Potomac and Edward Ord’s Army of the James.

There was no way that the Confederate army and the citizens of Richmond could be fed, and it was trickling away every day and night by desertion and disease. On 6 March he asked John B. Gordon, a Georgia-born attorney and one of his most trusted commanders, what he should do. In his memoirs, Gordon wrote that he gave Lee three choices, in decreasing order of preference: make peace, escape and join Confederate forces in North Carolina, or attack the Federals around Petersburg immediately. Lee rejected the first out of hand, knew that the second would be difficult if not impossible, but balked at the third. In a subsequent meeting, Lee opted to attack. “To stand still is death,” Lee is said to have lamented.

While Lee’s assessment was correct, he still had faith in the power of the offensive. While a front-wide offensive was impossible, a pinpoint attack was feasible. The target chosen was a place in the Federal lines closest to the Confederate entrenchments (at Colquitt’s and Gracie’s Salients) just east of Petersburg called Fort Steadman, also attractive because just a mile east was a Federal supply depot . Gordon would command nearly half of Lee’s infantry in the attack. Any attack, it was felt, would disrupt Grant’s plans to assault Richmond.

Fort Stedman (Battlefield Preservation Trust)

Gordon planned to penetrate Federal lines, sweep north and south to open a hole and allow follow-on forces to take the Federal supplies. A plan as sound as any, but when outnumbered and hungry, overly ambitious. Defending the area was about 14,000 men from three Federal corps, overall commanded by John Parke, who was in charge while army commander Meade was absent. Gordon’s preparations went undetected, but it hardly mattered. On in the predawn hours of 25 March 1865, he attacked Fort Stedman with his corps and elements of two others, a total of about 10,000 men.

In less than three hours, the Federals had limited the Confederate advance and were counterattacking. As Federal artillery bombarded from a nearby ridge, John F. Hartranft led a charge that reversed the Confederate advance, driving them back into their own lines. The attack not only failed but failed catastrophically. Federal casualties were about a thousand; Confederate casualties over 4,000–40% of the attacking forces, worse than Pickett’s Charge (whose division, ironically, was in reserve). At least a quarter of the Confederate casualties were prisoners; just how many just gave up to get fed is unknowable, but there had to have been some since the desertion figures were so high by then.

The Southern Confederacy’s options by then were so thin that this small-scale attack with grand ambitions was hardly a pinprick to the Union juggernaut. Grant’s reduction of the Petersburg siege had been ordered for 27 March, and Gordon’s attack didn’t put a dent in that plan. Gordon’s second option–breaking out of Richmond–would within a week become Lee’s only option other than surrender.

Vietnam War Veteran’s Day

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/ghosts-my-lai-180967497/
William Calley, after his 1971 conviction and 2009 (Montage by Smithsonian Magazine)

Friday, 29 March, is Vietnam War Veteran’s Day, so designated by the Vietnam War Veterans Recognition Act of 2017 signed by Donald Trump. It recognizes Vietnam-era veterans but is somewhat ironically timed. Yes, on 29 March 1973 the ceasefire took effect, but also on that same day two years earlier, William Calley was convicted of 22 counts of murder during the Mi Lai massacre. Calley was sentenced to life in prison, later commuted to house arrest, then commuted by a federal judge in 1974. He has been free since.

Calley was the only one of many officers and men who were, arguably, culpable for Mi Lai and the aftermath. No one is denying that something awful happened there and in scores of other places that were not well covered by Life Magazine reporters. Unfortunately, many people in the US and abroad have painted the stain of that infamous event on all the millions of men and women who served in Southeast Asia. I served with many of them; I’ve known many more; I’ve eulogized far too many. Now those once-young people are in their sixties and seventies, and no longer deserve to be spat upon as many of us were then. If you are a veteran of that long-ago conflict, hoist one for the rest of us. If you know one, at least acknowledge their service, but for the love of whatever deity you recognize DO NOT THANK US FOR OUR SERVICE. We served because we felt an obligation to the republic, not to be painted a generation later with praise. Just recognize, don’t thank.

HMS Dreadnought and Saint Patrick’s Day 2019

As March marches along (pun intended) we must now turn to the pressing issue of this time of year: the dog poop that’s been lying latent on/in the snow since January. Oh, boy…

HMS Dreadnought, 1911 Configuration (Wiki Commons)

The construction of HMS Dreadnought in 1905 was said to have triggered the naval race which drove WWI. While the nature of the historical record makes such claims unknowable–and a matter of opinion–Dreadnought did mark the beginning of the end of surface warship development. First Lord of the Admiralty John (Jackie) A. Fisher’s “all big gun” innovation drove warships to drop their multiplicity of ordnance in favor of a single primary batter and a host of secondaries. It also made them horribly more expensive.

Warships and the facilities to keep them have always been and will always be an expensive method of national defense, but in many cases a necessity. The ships themselves are only the most visible symbols. The dockyards, storehouses, training centers, munitions factories and everything else needed to maintain the ships cost orders of magnitude more than the ships.

But Dreadnought served in a particularly expensive, volatile and innovative period. Fisher felt that a warship’s first duty was to sink other warships. For this reason, he felt that scrimping on main gun armament in favor of smaller guns was a waste of space. Dreadnought carried ten 12-inch main guns in five turrets compared to the Lord Nelson class’s two 12-inch guns. To serve these guns, she was one of the first vessels in the Royal Navy to be built with electrically-operated centralized fire control. This large number of big guns were incentive enough to drive all other major combatants to follow the big-gun philosophy. While building her wasn’t particularly expensive for the time, designing and building entire navies because of that one vessel was–and that’s what happened.

For all the innovation she drove and all the sensation she caused at the time, Dreadnought’s combat record was quite brief–in fact, she never fired a shot at an enemy vessel. Dreadnought was, however, the only battleship to purposefully sink an enemy submarine. On 18 March 1915, German submarine SM U-29 broke the surface immediately ahead of Dreadnought and Dreadnought cut the submarine in two. She spent much of WWI being refitted and repaired, was paid off in 1920 and scrapped. Very little of the ship that drove a hundred others remains.

Saint Patrick’s Day 1984/2019

Yesterday was St. Patrick’s Day, commemorated with a parade first in Montreal in 1824 and observed in Canada as far back as 1759. The saint himself was said to have been born in Britain in the 4th century, and who returned to Ireland in the 5th to spread Christianity. He didn’t drive the snakes out: there were never any there.

But St Patrick’s day is noisily celebrated nearly everywhere, from Dublin to Yokohama to the International Space Station, primarily as a pop culture celebration and a reason to get blasted. Having an Irish heritage (my first ancestor in the New World was transported from Ireland to Jamestown in 1611) I can recall doing this more than once after I turned 18, and I can recall more than one St Patrick’s Day Blizzard growing up in Michigan.

On 17 March 1984, however, this scrivener and his bride Evelyne tied the knot in Waukesha, Wisconsin (see above). It was a sort of a compromise date. My step-brother was dying of cancer in Detroit at the time, and my step-father and my mother were shuttling back and forth between Michigan and where they lived in Florida, so I wanted to catch him on an up-cycle, and the date that became convenient was 17 March, a Saturday. It didn’t snow much that day, but it has snowed often enough on St Patrick’s Day since to make each anniversary memorable. And we’ve spent all of them together.

But five years ago today, on 18 March 2013, I had my C-3 through C-7 vertebra fused together. Didn’t snow that day, either, but it snowed a week later. I was in a brace and couldn’t do anything about it…but there it was.

So yesterday was our 35th wedding anniversary. Happy day, honey. I know you won’t read this, but I’d do it again, over and over. Love you!