Recently in History Category

Scanning the Past
January 15, 2017 9:33 PM | Posted in: ,

I'm in the process of scanning several hundred slides taken primarily by me and my father-in-law, some of which date back to the 1950s (those are his, not mine; how old do you think I am, anyway?). I'm discovering a few things, and recalling more than a few that I had forgotten.

Many of the photos have no apparent context. Most slides were stamped with the date of processing, but that only tells you when the photos may have been taken. Some of the locales of the vacation photos are recognizable, but others are not. We vacationed a lot in the mountains of Colorado and frankly, after thirty or forty years all those mountains look alike. Never underestimate the power of tagging your photos, people.

I was also a pretty lousy photographer. Most of my photos were taken with a Konica FS-1 SLR which I purchased in the Dallas area in the late 70s/early 80s. It was a pretty revolutionary camera at the time, one of the first with a built-in motor drive, and I was enamored by the technology. But, looking at the photos I took, all that technology did was enable me to take more bad pictures in a shorter amount of time. (I still have that camera, by the way.)

I apparently had no concept of fill flash, although it's conceivable that all the human subjects of my photography were in the federal witness protection program and I was doing my best to conceal their identities. And there's only so much Photoshop can do to bring those faces out of the shadows.

But, no use crying over spilt milk, or underexposed slides. I've also run across some interesting (to me) additions to the Historical Documents, including a number of glamour shots of my beloved Yamaha XS-11 motorcycle, which I bought in Dallas in 1979 and sold in 1983 after moving to Midland. I also discovered pictures of my wife as an infant (if you look up "chubby baby" in the dictionary, you'll see a photo of...well...never mind). Those are basically priceless.

Then there are the photos like the one shown below, documenting...random stuff. This one shows what passed for a home theater in 1982, or at least the one in our home.

The "A" portion of our A/V system consisted of vinyl (everything old is new again, right), and the "V" was VHS tapes streamed onto a humongous 23 inch TV (a step up from the 19 incher that was burgled from our house in Garland a couple of years earlier). I suspect those of you of a certain age can identify with this setup, but if you want more details, just mouse over each component in the following photo. Be sure to check out the leftmost video tape on the bottom shelf of the cabinet. (This also gives me a chance to geek out about a new bit of software I found called Image Map Pro that lets me create cool stuff like this.)

Travel back in time with me, if you will, to the year 1996, and contemplate the state of technology two decades ago.
In 1996, just 20 million American adults had access to the Internet, about as many as subscribe to satellite radio today. The dot-com boom had already begun on Wall Street--Netscape went public in 1995--but what's striking about the old Web is how unsure everyone seemed to be about what the new medium was for.
...
In 1996, Americans with Internet access spent fewer than 30 minutes a month surfing the Web...

Via Slate.com's Jurassic Web (2/24/09); coincidentally, Slate went live in 1996
Less than 10% of the U.S. population had internet access  but some of us were already trying to answer the implied question: how do you use it?

One rather obvious answer was to figure out who the likely audience might be, and then try to identify uses that might appeal to that audience. (Those folks would be known today as early adopters, a term that was actually coined in 1962 but which wasn't in widespread usage in 1996.) And, of course, the predictable answer for who likely fell into that demographic was college students.

And so some of us who were involved in on-campus college recruiting for our employer, ARCO Permian, had the brilliant idea of creating a website that would (1) explain what our company was and what it had to offer, via articulate and persuasive propaganda commentary, while (b) demonstrating our remarkable technical savvy and overall coolness.

The only flaw in the plan was that 10% number mentioned above. Even if college students had more ready access to the internet, a web-based approach would exclude a significant majority of them. The solution was simple: a WOAD, which was our acronym for "Website On A Disk." Impressive, right? OK, I just made that up, but it IS a cool acronym, with a kind of Celtic warrior vibe*.

Sadly, we elected to go with the more pedestrian "Portable Web Site" and it looked like this:

Photo of ARCO Permian Portable Web Site floppy disk
Note the totally pretentious copyright symbol

You remember floppy disks, with their two megabyte capacities (in HD format, that is) and magnephobia (no, it's not on the quasi-official phobia list, but it should be) tendencies. A floppy seemed to be the ideal medium for handing out to students who may or may not have had an internet connection.

Given the capacity limitations, the trick was to design a website that would fit on a disk. No problem, the actual site consisted of only four pages, and it totaled less than 250kb. And for some unknown reason, we had a link to a text-only version that consumed a massive 12kb. 

We also created a unique splash page tailored to each university we were recruiting from. Cutting edge stuff, I tell you. And, finally, we included a read_me.txt file on each disk providing detailed instructions on how, exactly, to open the website via browser (along with assurances that we had scanned the diskette "for viruses using Norton © Anti-Virus For Windows©, V. 3.0; even then I was a Mac user, but I resisted the urge to add that Apple folks needn't worry about such things).

I don't know if we ever actually hired anyone because of this tactic; I don't even recall getting any feedback about it. But it was a fun project to work on, and was one of the first of many, many websites I enjoyed building for years thereafter.

Oh...if you want to see what a 1996-vintage website looked like, well, you're in luck.



Winona Rider in King Arthur*In the 2004 movie King Arthur, the fierce tribe of Picts was referred to as "Woads," presumably because they made themselves look fierce by painting themselves with dye from the woad plant, and also because "Picts" sounds less than fierce. Some people with apparently nothing better to do dispute that as an historical misconception. 

Personally, I prefer to remember the movie for Winona Rider's Kiera Knightley's (oops!) Woad-ish costume, which would have easily won an Oscar for The Most Obviously Uncomfortable Costuming by a Major Actor or Actress in a Leading, Non-Musical Role (and I really do hope the Academy is considering the addition of such an award).

An Internet Pioneer: Me
January 29, 2016 9:39 AM | Posted in: ,

Depending on usage, the Internet has the potential to become a wonderfully effective business tool, or a troublesome diversion of time and resources.
The preceding quote - which today would likely be subject to an editorial "duh" - was lifted from a position paper dated December 14, 1994, authored by yours truly. I ran across this document, which I wrote as part of a recommendation on whether and how to allow employees to access the Internet, while going through some files that had been in storage.

My recommendation was that we should proceed with a limited rollout of 'Net access (the term "World Wide Web" was not yet in widespread usage; the first website was only four years old) to test its viability as a business tool. Our intended focus was to use the Internet as a means of allowing employees to access company policies, organization charts, etc. We also anticipated the potential for using it to communicate with third parties in areas such as surplus material listings, property sales "ads" and so on.

Logo - Mosaic web browserAt that time, our means to access the Internet was Mosaic, one of the earliest web browsers that sported a graphical user interface, primitive though it was. It had been released for just a year, and it quickly gave way to Netscape Navigator. Logo - Netscape Navigator web browserOur company provided training classes to a focus group for these browsers, and we were introduced to such exotic terms as search engines (WebCrawler and Lycos were the big dogs), bookmarks (so we could more easily revisit the approximately eight websites that were relevant to our work), and Usenet (for which etiquette rules were already a big deal, and probably as routinely ignored as they are today for Facebook comments).

This, indeed, was a brave new world, especially for nascent geeks. In fact, this probably marked a turning point in my life and career. To be more specific, when I learned that (1) I could view the source code of any website right there in the browser, and (2) I could create a website using any text processor, a whole new avenue of expression opened up for me. The jury is still out whether that was a good thing or not, but it was definitely a big thing.

As an aside, while Netscape Navigator was our primary web browser, it was also part of a suite of applications including Composer. Composer was my first exposure to a WYSIWYG HTML editor, and I used it to build and maintain a handful of websites, including a college recruiting site that we distributed to students via floppy disk to demonstrate how utterly cool we were.

Netscape Composer screen capture
Screen shot showing Composer's awesome GUI

However, it is clear that the Internet is continuing to evolve and grow in ways that we may not fully appreciate today.
Prophetic? I wouldn't deny the term, if you insist on applying it to me. Duh.
Before we get started, take a listen to this (length - 39 sec):



I've probably mentioned this before but I worked as a DJ at a small AM radio station in West Texas during my high school and early college years. That was back in the late 60s/early 70s, and the Viet Nam war was hot. And while the draft was still in effect, the various branches of the military were also stepping up their recruitment efforts.

Wolfman Jack USAF Program labelPart of those efforts entailed what we would today call infomercials, but which back then were referred to as public service announcements (PSA). They came in the form of prerecorded programs, usually musical, which were interspersed with promos for a specific branch of service. Radio stations were required to run a certain number of hours of PSAs each month, and the military recruiting programs were a good way to meet those requirements.

As you can imagine, stations didn't run these programs during prime time. Our station ran them on Sunday mornings. They came to us as 15-25 minute LP records (that's vinyl, kiddies), one PSA to a side. They were dated and once they were played, they were trashed.

I managed to "rescue" a half dozen or so of these PSA platters that came to us from the Air Force and from the Marine Corps. The Corps' programs were entitled Jazz on the Potomac, and were precisely 14 minutes and 30 seconds of, well, jazz. (Frankly, I never really grasped which demographic they were aiming at. Were there really that many 18-to-22 year old guys listening to jazz in the late Sixties?) They were narrated by Felix Grant, who had an almost fifty year career in radio, and whose voice was apparently created with jazz in mind. Grant's narration was educational, focusing on the music - the style and history. He made a single, low-keyed pitch for the Marine Corps during each program. Here's an example (length - 76 sec):



The USAF, on the other hand, took a different approach. Their programs were narrated by the (in)famous Wolfman Jack, and featured current rock and pop hits. The Wolfman's pitch was less polished but more lively, in keeping with the musical selections. Following is a good example, this one targeting young women (length - 1 min, 42 sec):



The music on the USAF's programs was a rather eclectic mix. I managed to save three LPs - six programs - and each had four-to-six songs. I'm not sure why I feel it's important to archive this information, but I guess it's partly for personal reference and partly to capture a bit of cultural history. In any event, here are the program listings for those three discs.

Series #11 - Program 1 - Disc 1 - Side A (July, 1972)
  • Layla - Derek & The Dominos
  • It's Too Late To Turn Back Now - Cornelius Bros. & Sister Rose
  • Sympathy For The Devil - Rolling Stones
  • Immigration Man - David Crosby & Graham Nash
Series #11 - Program 2 - Disc 1 - Side B (July, 1972)
  • Tumbling Dice - Rolling Stones
  • I Need You - America
  • Questions - Moody Blues
  • Hot Rod Lincoln - Commander Cody & His Lost Planet Airmen
  • I Didn't Get To Sleep At All Last Night - 5th Dimension
  • Hold Your Head Up - Argent
Series #11 - Program 3 - Disc 2 - Side A (July, 1972)
  • I Saw The Light - Todd Rundgren
  • Wolfman Jack - Todd Rundgren
  • What Is Life - George Harrison
  • Troglodyte - Jimmy Castor Bunch
  • Old Man - Neil Young
  • Blue Sky - Allman Brothers
Series #11 - Program 4 - Disc 2 - Side B (July, 1972)
  • 30 Days In The Hole - Humble Pie
  • People Make The World Go 'Round - Stylistics
  • Sweet Hitch Hiker - Creedence Clearwater Revival
  • Someday Never Comes - Creedence Clearwater Revival
  • Sylvia's Mother - Dr. Hook & The Medicine Show
Series #12 - Program 1 - Disc 1 - Side A (August, 1972)
  • Layla - Derek & The Dominos
  • Take It Easy - Eagles
  • Sunshine Superman - Donovan
  • Day By Day - Godspell
  • Brown Eyed Girl - El Chicano
Series #12 - Program 2 - Disc 1 - Side B (August, 1972)
  • Rip This Joint - Rolling Stones
  • School's Out - Alice Cooper
  • Whole Lotta Love - Led Zeppelin
  • Long Cool Woman - Hollies
  • Conquistador - Procol Harum
  • It's Too Late To Turn Back Now - Cornelius Bros. & Sister Rose
As an aside, none of those songs would likely have made the radio station's regular playlist (with the possible exception of Day By Day). The station format was "variety" or "middle of the road," and featured primarily country (or "country & western," as it was known back then) and easy listening music. So, the USAF platters were actually pretty cool collections from my perspective.

I'm in the process of digitizing these LPs, again for whatever historical value they might have). They're in pretty bad shape; I was not able to get the album covers and didn't have the foresight to at least put them in sleeves so they've been rattling around loose and uncovered for the past four decades. The flaws add a certain authenticity and character to them (sort of like my reflection in the mirror, or so I keep telling myself). Copyright law prevents me from ever posting the entire content online, but I've done what I could.
Photo of 'Mark Twain Redwood'

I was captivated by this photo someone shared on Twitter and tracked it down in the Library of Congress archives. It's an undated, uncredited picture of what some have dubbed the "Mark Twain Tree" (which is how it was titled on the Twitter post). I can't confirm this (and, in fact, I doubt it; see below for my reasoning), but if it's true, this California sequoia was felled in 1891 at the age of 1,341 years, according to this website. The tree was 331 feet tall, and the base of its trunk measured 90 feet in circumference. Although a couple of cross sections were saved, the rest of the massive tree went to make "grape stakes, fence posts and shingles."

Those are the facts surrounding this image, and they comprise a remarkable story on their own.

On the other hand...I have questions. Questions that might generate other stories. Let's take a closer look at parts of the photo, and wonder...

Closeup of portion of photo of 'Mark Twain Redwood'

  • Who are these people? Are they married? If so, why are they standing apart from each other?
  • On a related note, is the fact that the man is standing closer to the saw than to the woman meaningful?
  • What was the woman's role at the job site?
  • The woman seems to be dressed more formally than one might expect at a lumber harvesting operation. Was she a visitor?
  • Her expression doesn't seem to indicate that she's happy to be there. Is there a reason other than that was the typical expression for photographic subjects during that era?
  • The man's garb, on the other hand, is well-worn, even shabby. But should we assume that he was a member of the team who felled the tree?
Let's move to the man on the ladder...

Closeup of portion of photo of 'Mark Twain Redwood'

  • It's not readily evident from the full photo, but this man is missing part of his right forefinger. How did he lose it?
  • Is that a wound on his forehead, or simply a strange hair pattern?
  • The ladder on which he's standing is obviously hand-built. Was he nervous about mounting and posing on it?
There are a couple of tools in the photo...

Closeup of portion of photo of 'Mark Twain Redwood'

  • What was the purpose of the mallet (seen at the lower left of the original photo)? Was is used to drive wedges into the cut to keep the saw from binding?
  • The white rod (seen leaning against the tree on the right of the photo) might possibly be a sort of crowbar, but it doesn't appear metallic. What was its composition and purpose?
  • And while we're cogitating on the tools, how about that saw? If the circumference was 90', the diameter was almost 30' and you'd want a few feet extra for a good cutting action. Who made saws that long? From a distance, the photo suggests that two saws were welded together, but a closeup shows no obvious seam. Also, the saw is bowed along its length, rather than being straight. Did this provide more control of the cut, or is it designed to speed up the cut?
  • However...the man standing on the ground is perhaps 6 feet tall. The trunk he's standing in front of is not five times his height...it's closer to three, making the circumference less than 60 feet. Assuming the 90' circumference reported for the Mark Twain Tree is true, this cannot be the same tree. So, where and when was this photo taken?
  • How long did it take to cut down the tree? Hours? Days? Did it fall precisely where the lumberjacks intended?
  • Once the tree was felled, at least two additional cuts were made to create the cross sections mentioned in the article linked above. This implies that the saw operators worked from ladders on either side of the trunk. We might imagine that the sawing itself would be easier, but balancing on ladders surely complicated the process. Were there any ladder-related mishaps?
  • And, finally, did those who cut down this centuries old tree feel any remorse at their actions?
In the cosmic scheme of things, none of these questions are important. My point in raising them is simply to suggest that curiosity about seemingly trivial details might lead to fascinating stories, when answered with imagination and creativity. That's your assignment for the day.

Machalniks: Israel's "Secret Weapon"
November 9, 2013 1:09 PM | Posted in: ,

Oath - Volunteers of Foreign Nationals

As long as I assist as a volunteer in the War of Liberation of the Nation of Israel - I hereby swear on my word of honor, to accept unconditionally and without reservations, the rules and discipline of the Israeli Defence Army, to obey all its orders and istructions given by the authorised commanders and to do all in my power, and even to sacrifice my life in the defence of the Freedom of Israel.

In 1948, the nation of Israel was fighting for its continued existence, against numerically overwhelming Arab enemy forces. From the outside looking in, it would take a miracle for Israel to claim victory. But the history of Israel is defined by miracles, small and large, some with seemingly inexplicable supernatural origins, and others more mundane but no less amazing.

One of those latter types of "miracles" was the arrival of the Machal (a contraction of Mitnadvei Hutz La'Aretz, which is Hebrew for "Volunteers from Outside Israel"). About 3,500 volunteers - some Jewish, some not; some Zionist, some not - from 37 countries came to Israel to join in the fight during the War for Independence. An estimated 1,000 of those volunteers were Americans.

Many of the Machal were pilots with extensive combat experience during World War II, and they formed the nucleus for Israel's first organized air force. In addition, they played an important role in Israel's Medical Corps, as non-Israeli doctors and nurses with combat experience also volunteered their service.

I was completely unaware of this history until a friend shared a link to the following video, a preview of a documentary now in production that will tell the story of the Machalniks and others who played an instrumental role in creating the Israeli air force that help win the War for Independence, and which has evolved into arguably the most elite aerial combat force in the world.



You can learn more about the movie Above and Beyond: The Birth of the Israeli Air Force via the producer's website. You can also make a donation to help with the costs of the production.

I also strongly recommend Dr. Jason Fenton's The Machal Story, a firsthand account of the history of the group written by one of its members.

I believe that God has a plan for Israel as a nation and the Jewish people, and that His hand has been at work throughout their history. I can't help thinking that the emergence of the Machal was evidence of that providence. But even if you don't share my belief in that respect, you'll have to admit that it makes a compelling story.
The planned Energy Tower now has its own Wikipedia page, so it will inevitably be built, because they can't put anything in Wikipedia that's misleading, right? That means that a large number (or small number or a handful or one-or-two) Midlanders will be inconsolable over the demolition of the now-vacant county courthouse occupying a full block of prime downtown real estate, citing its historical significance or some such illogical sentimentality.

Don't get me wrong. I'm all for saving/restoring/using truly historical structures, especially when the architecture is unique or even notable. I'm afraid that our courthouse qualifies on neither account.

It was built in 1930, and might be a candidate for protection in its original condition, but it was remodeled in the early 1970s and whatever unique qualities it may have exhibited were plastered over by a shiny new and very unremarkable façade. It has all the grace and charm of a Motel 6, no offense to Motel 6 of course. It's the Pontiac Aztec of Texas courthouses.

The building now stands empty, as the former tenants couldn't wait to vacate the premises for more modern, livable, non-flooding, non-vermin-infested quarters in a high rise in another part of downtown.

That's no slam against Midland. West Texas has more than its share of unremarkable county courthouses. Jump over to this page and hover over the various counties and you'll see a wide range of architecture, ranging from classic (e.g. Jeff Davis and Crockett Counties) to early modern bureaucratic (e.g. Ector and Martin Counties).

In any event, a building constructed in the 70s certainly hasn't the bona fides to compete with, say, the Cass County courthouse in Linden, Texas, which was built in 1961 and is still in active use for its original purpose.

Even if the courthouse building displayed its original architecture, given that it's not being used for anything else and Midland has more than its share of museums and libraries, I would argue that reusing that real estate for something more attractive and practical just makes good sense. But as a 70s relic, I'll shed no tears over its demise.

Poster - Not all Texas Courthouses are Worth Saving

Honoring a Veteran - My Dad
November 11, 2011 8:58 AM | Posted in: ,

Seven years ago, at the urging of one of my cousins, my Dad sat down with my Mother and dictated the story of his experiences in World War II. Dad served in the Army as a machine gunner in the European Theater - he and his outfit landed at Normandy Beach shortly after D-Day - and was wounded not once, but twice. He still carries shrapnel in his arm from the second injury, which was inflicted by a German sniper.

I thought that on this Veteran's Day, the best way to honor an American who was willing to sacrifice everything for our country is to let him tell his story to a wider audience. Here it is, in unedited fashion, as recorded in October and November, 2004. And thanks, Dad - and all your fellow heroes - for setting an example of humble sacrifice.


Photo of my dad in his uniform

I graduated from Gainesville High School in May of 1940. I worked as an engine repair mechanic in Gainesville for about one year. I then went to work for Western Auto , where I was employed when I was drafted into the US army in February of 1943.

I went to Camp Wolters at Mineral Wells, TX for processing. From there I went into an anti-aircraft outfit at Palacios, TX. I served there for about one year. I was part of a gun crew that tracked planes to be shot down. While there the company was forced to make us march 40 miles. It was terribly hard on us and we decided to complain.

The gun crew I was on had ten members. We decided to talk to our commanding officer. He was not much help. We did find out that five of us had an IQ high enough to apply for Officer Training School. We were interviewed by a captain. He looked at me and said, "How old are you?" and I said, "I'm eighteen years, sir." He said, "You are too damned young to be a 2nd Lieutenant." He and I talked and he explained that my IQ was high enough to get into A.S.T.P. (Army Specialized Training Program.) I agreed to try it out. This training was for one year and I would be a 2nd Lieutenant in our engineering company, which would be building roads and bridges. He said I would go to Oklahoma A&M to get this training. I left my anti-aircraft outfit and went to Texas A&M for processing before going to Oklahoma A&M. 

I stayed at Texas A&M for about two weeks before being sent to Oklahoma A&M, where I was assigned to a company of about 160 men and we lived in a dormitory. We went to class six days a week. We marched to class and to mess hall for meals. I lived in Main Murray Hall. Everything was going well until the middle of January when we were called out one morning and the commanding officer announced, "You  are now members of the 104th Infantry Division and you will begin your new duty immediately in the desert, training." My new commanding officer was General Terry Allen, who was active in the African campaign.

We trained in the desert in Modesto, California about three months, then the 104th Infantry Division was transferred to Camp Carson, Colorado, for additional training. I had a 30 caliber machine gun as my weapon. I loved that weapon and when we fired for record, I fired a perfect score. I was a PFC (Private First Class).

We went on maneuvers (a large-scale tactical exercise carried out under simulated conditions of war) and I had my first accident.  My job was to cut off a column of troops going uphill in a ravine and I ran down to cut them off, but when I got to the ravine I saw it was too wide and too deep and I could not stop so I tried to jump across. I made it to the other side but fell to the bottom of the ravine. When I fell, the machine gun hit the arch of my right foot and broke a bone in my foot. That cost me two weeks in the hospital. 

I knew that we were going to be shipped out to Europe and the invasion of France was on schedule...I was afraid I would miss going overseas, so I aggravated everyone in the hospital to let me get back to my outfit. The lieutenant finally got tired of my griping and he released me back to my outfit. I could walk with a slight limp and was assigned to barracks orderly duty.

While stationed at Camp Carson, I was one of three soldiers who set a record by climbing to the top of Pike's Peak and back down in one day. We were in good shape. We tried to get to the top in time to ride the train down..well, we missed the train by about five minutes, so we had to return to the bottom of the climb. We made it down. I had blisters on my feet and my buddies had blood in their shoes. The M.P.'s (Military Police) caught us when we got to the bottom. After questioning us, they hauled us to our barracks and dropped us off. Our commanding officer recognized our injuries and assigned us to the barracks until we could work again.

1944 - The 104th Infantry Division finally went to Fort Dix, New Jersey. We stayed there a few days getting ready to leave the United States of America. The invasion of France had just started and we knew we would not be going to England, but would go directly into France at Omaha Beach, directly from USA. I and my machine gun fought in the hedgerows in Normandy and St. Lou. We could not go down a road because they were mined and the Germans had a habit of striking the road by aircraft. We followed the American tanks as they cleared paths through the hedgerows.

Our company had two machine guns. I had one, and the other machine gunner was an Indian from Arizona. We were a good team.

We moved into central France and finally got relief to go to Paris for a few days. The F Company, the one I was a part of, rode a train loaded with five gallon containers filled with gas. For some reason, we stopped on our way to Paris, and we noticed a number of French citizens near the train. We thought everything was O.K., but we decided to check ..and found the French were busy taking the cans of gasoline and stacking them between the rails. We rounded up the French and made them place the cans back on our train. We got to Versailles, then decided to go into Paris. We stayed at the St. Mark's Hotel in Paris, which was nice, hot showers, soft beds, cheap food and French girls! We ate and partied at a restaurant, and had a big time for about a week. We discovered where the officer's mess was, so we went early in the morning to eat free and ate up all the food that was prepared for the officer's. Another trick we learned was to watch where our waitress went to get wine when we ran out; we soon saw her go downstairs and return with a bottle of wine. Later we  kept her occupied while one of the group went downstairs and came back with several bottles of wine at no charge.

When we left Paris we were stationed in the Maginot line across the river from the Siegfried line. We stayed there about a week. The Maginot line was a series of bunkers and the Germans had every entrance zeroed in with mortar fire. We had strict orders to not stand in the openings to our quarters because we would attract German artillery. The Germans were noisy people at night, so we played a trick on them. The 415th Regiment (Timber Wolf) had at least two soldiers who could howl like a wolf. Around ten o'clock at night one soldier would howl, then another, then another. Everything on the German side became quiet and then they would set off flares to see what we were up to. This would go on every night while we were in the Maginot line.

The 104th division moved through France, fighting Germans. One day we filled fox holes that had American GI's that had been killed. We were under fire from time to time and could not locate the Germans. We saw a number of haystacks. We had a meeting and decided to fire tracer bullets into the haystacks, when we did, the haystacks caught fire. This brought the Germans out and the infantry killed all of them.

The 104th division moved out through Belgium. The people in this country were very nice to American soldiers. We were invited to spend the night in their homes. We enjoyed their hospitality for good home-cooked food. We left there and moved into Holland.

In Holland I received  a wound in my right foot from an 88 shell. The shell landed behind me and exploded. I was digging my fox hole and crawling in as I was digging. The 88 shell landed behind me and dirt covered me up completely. My buddies thought I had been killed; they were happy and shouted when they saw me come up out of the dirt. This is when I received my first purple heart. The medics wanted me to go back to first aid, but I refused after they removed the shrapnel from my foot. The 88 gun that fired the shell was 2,000 yards away from us. My friends carried my machine gun and ammunition and my pack.

We moved from Holland into the Hurtegan Forest in Germany. We dug fox holes and spent two nights in them. The first day was spent aggravating Germans along a road 500 yards from our position. We ran about ten Germans into a rock house, where we attempted to shoot them, but we did not have the right guns for the job. One soldier, who was on a 155mm gun, came up to see what was going on and he said he would take care of it. His 155mm bullet made a direct hit on the house and that was the end of that.

The next morning we were preparing to move out when I noticed a new  recruit standing under a pine tree. I told him to get into a fox hole because the Germans were near. He refused and a few minutes later I saw him fall. He was dead from a sniper's bullet. I was busy putting my pack on when I felt something hit my left side. The sniper had shot me. I did not lose consciousness. We located where the sniper was, and one of my buddies fired my machine gun until the sniper fell out of the tree where he was hiding. 

The Germans began firing artillery while the wounded and dead were being taken care of by our soldiers. The medics were picking up dead GI's when the Lieutenant said, "Here is a live one..take him back to the medics." They loaded me onto the stretcher and carried me back., and at one time, they dropped me. I warned them if they dropped me again I would shoot them with my 45 pistol. We arrived at the medics, and there they cut my clothes off and were amazed at the damage the bullet had made. It was strange, but I felt no pain...I was probably in shock. The bullet had severed the tendons of my two middle fingers of my left hand. It shattered the bone in my upper arm, between the elbow and my left shoulder. The bullet stayed embedded in the muscle in the back of my left arm, where it still remains to this day. It destroyed the nerve of my left arm. I was told later by the medics that a German POW doctor put the bones back together as well as he could. I was shipped to a hospital in Paris for another operation, after which I was shipped to England for a period of time, and I had another surgery there. 

While in England, I was in a ward with about one hundred wounded soldiers. I remember talking to a soldier in the bed next to mine. He had wounds to both arms. We looked around and every soldier, except the two of us, had one or two limbs amputated.  I could get out of my bed, so I went to the doctor's office where he told me that we were in the amputation ward. That excited me, but the doctor told me that I would make it without losing my arm, and the soldier next to me would not have to suffer an amputation, either.

I remained in the hospital for a couple of weeks before the doctor came around to tell me that I would be shipped to Scotland, and from there I would be flying back to the United States. When we got to Scotland the weather was bad and the officer in charge came by and said all that were able to walk would travel by ship, and all of the "litter patients" would travel by plane. Needless to say, I became a "litter patient" and would be flying back to the USA. The medics carried me on a stretcher onto the plane. When we arrived in New York, I was carried on a stretcher from the plane, and to my bed at the hospital. I thought they would kill me when I got off my stretcher and crawled into my bed.

The next day I was loaded onto another plane and was flown to Modesto, California. En route, we spent the night in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The officer in charge came by my cot and said, "Siegmund, I know you are from Gainesville, Texas, so I sure don't want you to leave that bed and try to go to Gainesville." I assured him that I was in no condition to do anything so foolish! When we got to Modesto, I underwent more nerve surgery to repair the damaged nerve in my arm. I was in the hospital about two weeks, and after the surgery, I received full use of my left arm. The tendons to both fingers had been repaired while I was in the hospital in Paris, so they turned out fine.

When I left California, I was sent to Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas for physical therapy. I spent about two months in therapy to strengthen my left arm. 

In October of 1945, I asked what kind of discharge I would get. The officer said it would be a medical discharge. I told them I wanted a regular discharge, but they told me that I had too much disability for a regular discharge. Well, they sent me back to my ward at Fort Sam Houston. To make a long story short, they sent me back to receive a medical discharge, which I refused again, but I finally did get a regular discharge. I worked for the next six weeks at the Occupational Therapy Center at Fort Sam Houston. On January 10. 1946, I told the person in charge of therapy that I was quitting to go to Texas A&M University to get a degree in Animal Husbandry.

I hitchhiked to Texas A&M University and enrolled in Animal Husbandry. The following May I received some good news from the US War Department informing me that I had been awarded a medical discharge and I would be paid disability compensation at 40 per cent level, which I still receive each month. My left arm is strong and I delight in talking to people who want to know how I got wounded, and they all are amazed that I still carry the bullet that did all the damage.

There's no doubt that television technology has made great strides. We're on the threshold of having an 85" 33-megapixel TV to hang on our walls (for most of us, it will have to be in the garage, of course), or if that's too ostentatious, you can put in an order for Samsung's new 70 incher, if you're willing to settle for a mere 8 million pixels of Dr. Phil.

Scan of Magazine Ad
But for some of us, we harken back to a simpler time, when a guy (and not just MacGyver), with nothing more than five simple tools and sweat of his brow, could build his own TV, and a color one at that, complete with an "ultra-rectangular," 25" (315 sq-inch) screen that provides almost immediate access to 24 channels, more than you'll ever need if you're expecting quality programming.

The ad on the right (click to enlarge, and to dig that cool 70s 'do) appeared in the January, 1973 edition of Cycle Magazine, complete with a postcard (postage-paid, no less) to get more information about enrolling in the Electronics Home Study School offered by DeVry Institute of Technology (a Bell & Howell School). If you successfully completed the course, you got to keep the Bell & Howell Solid State color TV that you built. Plus, as the ad revealed, "You might even end up with a business of your own in color TV servicing."

The magazine also has an ad for Record Club of America: "FREE! up to 25 Stereo LPs or 15 Tapes (cartridge or cassette) with NO OBLIGATION to BUY ANYTHING EVER!" Did you fall for that one?
Update [October, 2011]: C.S. Fuqua has published a book entitled "Alabama Musicians: Musical Heritage from the Heart of Dixie." Why do I tell you this? Because Gene Sullivan was from Alabama, and Mr. Fuqua included a chapter about him in the book. He also included the photo shown below, and provided yours truly with a nice attribution. I recommend the book, and not just because my name appears in it; it's quite interesting.

Below is yet another scan from Debbie's mom's collection of '30s and '40s memorabilia. This one features a couple of musicians, Wiley Walker and Gene Sullivan. I hadn't heard of either of these guys, but there's a pretty detailed bio here.

Sullivan was a boxer before turning to music, perhaps to avoid the burden of expectation that would accompany such a prestigious pugilistic appellation.

This flyer appears to be a promo for a tire company in Lubbock (the floating tire is obviously superimposed on a photo of the musicians; one can only guess at their relationship to the company). According to the bio, they worked radio stations in Fort Worth and Lubbock, so it's safe to assume that they were well known in Lubbock at the time this flyer was produced.

Flyer - Wiley Walker and Gene Sullivan

The duo formed in 1939, which seems to correspond with the general vintage of the collection of the miscellany I've been scanning and posting on this site. In 1941, they recorded "When My Blue Moon Turns to Gold," which Elvis Presley turned to money when he recorded a pop version in 1956. Here's a recording of the original version, courtesy of YouTube.


Light Crust Doughboys
October 14, 2010 8:37 AM | Posted in: ,

Debbie was going through some of her mom's memorabilia a couple of weeks ago, and ran across a flyer for "Parker Willson and the Light Crust Doughboys."

I suspect that most people in Texas have at least heard of the LCDs, which, according to Wikipedia (the font of all human knowledge, or at least semi-informed opinion and/or conjecture) bills itself as "the longest-running country band in the world."  The group was created in 1931 to promote the products of Burrus Mill and Elevator Company of Fort Worth, Texas, back when radio advertising was in its infancy. That company's president, Pappy O'Daniel, was parodied in the movie, O Brother, Where Art Thou? The LCDs had a very popular live radio show that ran more than twenty years. For a comprehensive history of the group, check out a book entitled The Light Crust Doughboys are on the air: celebrating seventy years of Texas music.

Near as I can tell, Parker Willson fronted the band as emcee during the period around 1939-41. The photos below are scans of the flyer, and the reference to Vocalion Records on the reverse side seems to indicate that this was a promotional piece put out by that studio. The Vocalion label was discontinued in 1940 (again, according to Wikipedia), which further narrows down the age of the flyer.

Click on each thumbnail to see a larger version of the image.

Scan of flyerScan of flyer

Aggie Bonfire - 10 Years Later
November 18, 2009 9:42 AM | Posted in: ,

Today marks the 10th anniversary of the collapse of the bonfire on the Texas A&M campus that killed twelve students and injured many others. The university marked this anniversary with a week-long observance, which culminated in a candlelight vigil and memorial service beginning at 2:42 this morning, the precise time of the collapse. Photos from that vigil plus other recollections of the tragedy are found on this Facebook event page.

Statewide, media have provided coverage of the anniversary. Perhaps the most widely seen coverage will be the story in the current edition of Texas Monthly Magazine. I haven't read the article, but by all accounts it's an accurate and even moving description of the disaster, as well as an unexpectedly sensitive treatment of the tradition and meaning for A&M students. (I say "unexpected" because Texas Monthly has a reputation for being biased toward A&M's arch-rival, the University of Texas.) The website also has an interesting video about the creation of the photo on the cover of the magazine, which features a computer-generated version of the bonfire. (Perceptive viewers will notice that a Mac was used for the 3D modeling.)

Locally, Jimmy Patterson has written an article for the Midland Reporter Telegram about the anniversary of the bonfire collapse. He's done his typically excellent job in reporting, and the only quibble I have with the article is one that probably isn't his fault anyway: if you're going to refer to the aforementioned University of Texas using the Aggie acronym, it's "tu" (lower case). I'll give him the benefit of the doubt and chalk that up to an editor's eye.

I worked on one bonfire during my five-year stint at A&M. As a freshman in the Corps of Cadets in 1970, about the only thing I remember is how long the four-hour work sessions were, and how short the four-hour rests seemed. I was perpetually sleep-deprived anyway (that being the typical state of a Corps fish), so the bonfire work is really just a hazy memory. It was also the hardest work I'd done in my life up to that point.

The fact that I never participated in another bonfire construction (I didn't return to the Corps after my freshman year) probably puts me in that shameful "two-percenter" category, but it's a fact of Aggie life that far more students didn't work on the bonfire than did. That doesn't lessen my respect for the tradition it represents.

However, I also agree with a number of commenters on the Texas Monthly article who point out that the bonfire is not Texas A&M, nor are the rich heritage and traditions of the university diminished significantly by its absence.

My wife and I visited the on-campus Bonfire Memorial a couple of summers ago, on a day so brutally hot and humid that it was all we could do to muster the energy to walk from the car to the Stonehenge-like setting where the twelve students who perished were honored. But we found the memorial to be so moving that we spent more than an hour reading the stories of those young people, and watching other visitors move respectfully along with us, no one speaking above a whisper. To me, that desire and ability to honor fellow Aggies is the most important tradition of them all, and as long as that doesn't change, the A&M heritage is secure.
I suppose I just have not been paying attention, but I had never heard of Chiune Sugihara until last week, when I read his story on the Mental Floss blog. If his name is also unfamiliar to you, please take a few minutes to learn more about him, as his actions are credited with saving 6,000 Lithuanian Jews from the Holocaust of World War II. Those actions resulted in significant personal grief for him and his family, but, like all true heroes, he counted the cost and found he was willing to pay it on behalf of human beings with whom he had nothing apparent in common.

I find no small comfort in believing that for every Fort Hood mass murderer (I refuse to type his name), there's at least one Chiune Sugihara.

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