Tuesday, June 25, 2019

The day time ran out

Every year about this time
Every year as May 17 approaches, my mind shifts to thoughts of George Armstrong Custer and the troopers of the Seventh United States Army Cavalry. That date was on a Wednesday in 1876 and it was the departure date from Fort Abraham Lincoln in the middle of what is now North Dakota on the ill-fated expedition which for many men ended on Sunday, June 25, on the plains by the Little Bighorn River in what is now southeastern Montana.
Many hours in time and many miles in travel have gone into learning as much as my meager mind can hold related to Custer and the days of his 36 years on the surface of the earth --  especially the final month. In a way, I feel exhausted and worn out regarding this episode in the life and legend and mythology of George .... but, I always can find a few words ....
As a journalist, an individual comes in personal contact with all manner of other individuals and, depending up where he or she is working, they range in scope and character from the very poor to the wealthy and powerful; from the obscure to those on the pinnacle of the celebrity mountain; from the shy and timid to the extremely brazen; from the worst criminals imaginable to people among the upper echelons of law enforcement. I assume you get my drift.
I have characterized myself as a chameleon of sorts, who as a reporter has been able to interview a governor in the morning and a murderer in the afternoon, and to make each of them comfortable speaking with me about their lives and loves and you name it. This trait mostly stems from a natural-born curiosity and a willingness to ask anyone anything. An oddity about the time and the miles I have put in related to studying the "Custer Connections" is that it almost seems to me many of the individuals in that story have come to be like people I have interviewed person-to-person and I have actual memories of their words and body language. Hmmmm ....
I will add that I have interviewed some descendants of participants on both sides of the battle and been told a few oral traditions which have been passed along over the years -- some believable, some not.
Custer died that day, along with 15 other officers of the Seventh Calvary, 242 enlisted and 10 civilians/scouts, for a total of 268 killed, plus another 55 wounded. Lakota Sioux, Cheyenne and Arapahoe casualties numbered at least 36 killed, 168 wounded (according to Sitting Bull) or 136 killed, 160 wounded (according to Red Horse).
Such were the numbers of dead and wounded that day. Pictured here are eight of those officers. I put them here this day as a reminder that many more men than G.A. Custer died the afternoon of June 25, 1876 -- 143 years ago today -- and through images of these eight to show them as actual flesh and blood, breathing human beings whose lives were snuffed out that bloody Sunday at "Greasy Grass," as the Indians called it. No more hope/dreams/plans .... no more anything after the day their time ran out ....
Some incidentals:
Thomas Custer was George's younger brother by six years and had won two Congressional Medals of Honor during the Civil War. His reputation was as a heavy-duty womanizer.
James Calhoun was married to Margaret "Maggie" Custer, George's sister. "Jimmi" was thought of as a serious and humorless man. His body and those of the troopers he commanded were found in battle formation, indicating a brave death. A Smith & Wesson revolver of his which had been left behind at Fort Lincoln is on display at the battlefield museum.
W.W. Cooke lied about his age to join the army at age 17, and was one of the best shots and fastest runners in the regiment. He was the author of the famous note: "Benteen. Come On. Big village. Be quick. Bring packs. WW Cooke. P.S. Bring Pacs."
Benjamin "Benny" Hodgson was a favorite of both George and Elizabeth "Libbie" Custer. He was wounded during the retreat of troops commanded by Major Marcus Reno and was killed soon after crossing the Little Bighorn River. There actually were two 2nd Lieutenant Benjamin Hubert Hodgsons killed at the Little Bighorn, which creates confusion.
Myles Keogh was born in Ireland and a professional soldier. As a 20-year-old, he fought for the Papal States during the war for unification of Italy and later in the Civil War. An Agnus Dei medal he wore around his neck still was on his body when he was found. His horse, Comanche, was the only survivor in George's immediate command.
George Yates met Custer while recuperating from a Civil War wound. He was said by some to share an obsession for cleanliness with George. Fort Yates in Dakota Territory was named in his honor.
James "Jack" Sturgis was a 22-year-old lieutenant and one of nineteen troopers presumed killed at the Little Bighorn, but whose body never was found in the sense of positive identification. He is thought to have been buried in a mass grave at the battlefield.
Algernon Smith was part of the so-called "Custer Clan." He was given the nickname "Fresh" Smith by George to differentiate him from another soldier who bore the nickname "Salty" Smith.
All these men, unless otherwise noted, died near George on Custer Hill -- appropriately called by many Last Stand Hill.
Time flies whether you are having fun or not ....

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Nice day for a road trip .. see comment below

The sign read: Snake River.
I asked a couple standing nearby. "Is this really the Snake River?"
They pointed to the sign and nodded affirmatively.
None of my camera work could ever be compared to that of Ansel Adams, who produced some "nice stuff" of the Snake back in 1942, but just to sort of walk in his footsteps in the foothills of the Teton Mountains of Wyoming is good enough for me.
Who writes history?
Which of these is a true statement?
"History is written by the winners."
"Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it."
"We spend a great deal of time studying history, which, let's face it, is mostly the history of stupidity."
"That men do not learn very much from the lessons of history is the most important of all the lessons that history has to teach."
There are variations of all four, of course, and since written words are a relatively new feature in the overall scope of time, no one can know with certainty when the concept of each first was realized. There is some truth in each statement, but not one of them is a universal truth. Thucydides, an Athenian general among the Old Greeks, echoed the first; George Santayana and a host of others have parroted the second; Stephen Hawking is credited with the third; Aldous Huxley wrote the fourth in his, "Collected Essays."
My own idea is that history is written by those interested in writing it .... although I would wager a great deal of money that idea hardly is a new one. As the unknown author of Ecclesiastes noted: "What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun."
It also is a well-known and often-noted fact that eye-witness testimony frequently is contradictory and not always accurate. Ask three witnesses to an armed robbery and it is not unusual to hear three variations of the event. Ask a soldier what he witnessed during a battle and then ask another soldier who was five yards away from the first, and do not be surprised if you hear a different story.
What people see and hear depends usually on what is happening specifically to them and to where their attention generally is focused.
So, one more time? Who writes history?

Thursday, June 6, 2019

This probably is not what you expected today

This post probably is not what you would expect today -- the 75th anniversary of D-Day -- the invasion of Europe at Normandy by Allied Forces during World War II. The photograph on the left is of paratroopers Clarence Ware and Charles Plaudo with hair cut in the "Mohawk" style applying "war paint" to each other's faces, while the photo on the right shows other members of the airborne "pathfinder" unit checking their gear.  The idea for the hair and the paint came from James "Jake" McNiece to honor his Native American heritage.
These photographs were printed in the Stars and Stripes and helped form the legend of  "The Filthy Thirteen," the name given to the 1st Demolition Section of the Regimental Headquarters Company of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, of the United States Army, which fought in the European campaign in World War II. A demolition section consisted of thirteen enlisted men, and this particular group acquired its nickname by refusing to bathe during the week in order to use its water ration for cooking game poached from the neighboring manor while stationed in England. Incidentally, the unit was the inspiration for the book and subsequent film, "The Dirty Dozen."
About the activities of The Filthy Thirteen, another member, Jack Agnew, once said, "We weren't murderers or anything, we just didn't do everything we were supposed to do in some ways and did a whole lot more than they wanted us to do in other ways. We were always in trouble." They would have made good, wartime Marines ....
Yep .... this post probably is not what you would expect today .... then again, maybe it is exactly what you did expect -- a flicker of memory and a dose of recognition mingled in the essence of irreverence ....



Something special ....