Preserve the USS Arizona!

USS Arizona and USS Bennington
My favorite photo of the USS Arizona as a memorial: crew aboard the Essex-class flattop Bennington spell out her name as their ship passes by on Memorial Day, 1958. Photo courtesy US Naval Historical Center.

 

Note:  this originally appeared under my old “Richard Krebes” byline in the Sunday, December 7th, 2008 edition of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin under the title: “Don’t let our sacred memories rust to oblivion with the Arizona.” My sentiments remain the same today, and will be for the rest of my life.-T.H. 

Sixty-seven years ago today, the United States of America suffered the worst military defeat in her history when Japan launched her surprise attack against Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

Among those lost during this attack were over a thousand men from the crew of the battleship Arizona.

Most of her survivors have now joined them.

In November of 1991, as the 50th anniversary of the attack neared, newspapers and TV broadcasts in Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota noted the passing of a resident named Guy Flanagan.  A local Pearl Harbor survivor who, as a young ensign in the United States Naval Reserve, survived Arizona‘s sinking.

I was devastated at the news.

Guy Flanagan was also my friend.

He was also an unsung hero. For he helped save lives the day Arizona was lost when, trapped outside a shut watertight door leading to the lower powder handling room of number three turret with several crewman he began signaling on the door “SOS” with the watch strapped to his left wrist.  Calmly praying out loud all the while.  Breaking his watch and cutting his skin but successfully signaling to those inside to open the door.

For this, Guy earned the nickname “Father Flanagan”.

 

Flanagan
An excerpt from an account by Guy Flanagan Jr. that appeared in the original article. Tony Held collection.

 

On May 13th, 1992, Guy’s ashes were returned to the Arizona.

Sixty-seven years after Arizona’s loss, and sixteen years after my friend was interned aboard, Arizona is facing an uncertain future.

The National Park Service is undecided whether or not to preserve her as corrosion continues to attack her hull.

But we must preserve the Arizona.  Even if it breaks the bank doing so.

With survivors of the attack dying rapidly, the memory of December 7th, 1941 is beginning to fade away with them.  And if we let Arizona corrode and collapse into a pile of rubble, what will we have left to remind us of what happened that tragic Sunday, or of survivors like Guy Flanagan?

The Arizona is a reminder of our greatest defeat that conveys better than any book or film can as to the terrible losses suffered.  Because she is also a tomb for most of her victims.  As well as survivors who have been buried aboard such as Guy.

Letting Arizona corrode away would be tantamount to grave desecration.

I strongly urge the National Park Service to decide on preserving the Arizona.

She is too sacred a place to be lost to the sands of time.

 

arizona memorial
Image credit: Mysterious Universe.

 

Review: “Steamtown in Color,” by Jim Boyd

CP 4-6-4 2816 the Empress with helper diesel and train Loretto September 8th 2007
CP 4-6-4 Hudson 2816 -a Steamtown alumnus- passes through Loretto, MN, on September 8th, 2007. Jim Boyd’s book Steamtown in Color contains several great pictures of this historic locomotive. Photo taken by Tony Held.

The railfan community lost a leading light with the death of Jim Boyd. His book “Steamtown In Color: From F. Nelson Blount to the National Park Service” was one of his last.

This book provides a succinct and readable account of the saga of Steamtown. A museum initially created by millionaire railfan F. Nelson Blount in the early 1960’s out of standard-gauged steam engines he had begun collecting for “Engine City” at the Pleasure Island amusement park in Wakefield, Massachusettes (Blount also owned the late Ellis Atwood’s Edaville narrow gauge railroad in South Carver, Mass., at this time as well.) These engines formed the nucleas of Steamtown USA. A museum Nelson envisioned as a place to not only display his engines but run them as well!

Steamtown first wound up in North Walpole, New Hampshire, along the rails of the Boston & Maine. After first operating on nearby short line Claremont & Concord and then out of Keene, NH, on the B&M, Steamtown then migrated over the Connecticut River to neighboring Bellows Falls, Vermont along a stretch of the state-owned ex-Rutland railroad running from there to the Rutland’s namesake city Blount soon formed the Green Mountain railroad operate freight service as well as run Steamtown’s steam excursions. Alas, Nelson died an untimely death in 1967 when his private plane ran out of fuel and crashed (Nelson also loved flying as well as riding on the rails. One standard gauge steam engine -Boston & Maine 2-6-0 1455- also was displayed there but never formally was included in his Steamtown collection. ) However, he had created the Steamtown Foundation shortly before his death. This organization oversaw the running of the museum from Nelsons death through the move from Vermont to Scranton, Pennyslvania right up until the time Steamtown USA gave way to Steamtown National Historic Site.

While he notes that the creation of Steamtown NHS attracted “a carload of controversy”, Boyd mercifully avoids the ins and outs of the “pork barrel” debate about the government takeover of Steamtown. He does, however, mention some surprising facts about it. First, Steamtown was not Congressman Joeseph McDade’s idea alone. In 1986 local officials from the Scranton area approached him to seek a federal solution to the monetary woes that beset Steamtown USA after it moved to Scranton but failed to attract the visitor levels needed to keep it in the black. In turn McDade approached National Park Service director William Mott about the idea of taking Steamtown on board, and Mott (who had helped create the California State Railway Museum) was receptive to the idea. So much for the charges that McDade foisted Steamtown on the Park Service without their yes or no. What is more, Boyd points out in the section of chapter five entitled “Welcome Canadian Pacific” that a museum once mocked as “the finest Canadian railroad museum in the United States” due to the many Canadian Pacific and Canadian National engines in the collection (a result of Blount being able to find more steam locos there than in the United States due to Canada being five years behind the US in switching from steam to diesel) wound up getting Canadian Pacifc as Scranton’s home road when it bought the Delaware & Hudson in 1991. Boyd thus says between the lines that the critics could then go eat crow about all those Canadian engines at Steamtown. One of which -CPR Hudson 2816- later went back home for CPR’s own steam program.

The photos that populate the pages of this pictorial history are a feast for the eyes. They are well-reproduced and have crisp, accurate captions.

The only flaw in the book is typos (for example, “Steamtown” is spelled “Stumptown” in the beginning of the chapter seven!) They are not many, however, and do not detract from the book.

I would heartily recommend “Steamtown In Color.” It is a well-written and illustrated look at the saga of one of the premier railway museums in the world.

 

Minnesota Commercial photos: volume three

MNNR B30 7 54 about to go by Amtrak Midway to couple onto other end of hopper cut 10 29 2011
Here comes MNNR B30-7 54. The unit is about to pass Amtrak Midway in the middle of a switching move. Unit had just brought in a cut of hoppers from the Hiawatha Switching District along the former Milwaukee Road line in Southeast Minneapolis. It will soon shove them into the yard. Photo taken by Tony Held on 10-29-2011.
MNNR B30 7 54 passing Amtrak Midway to shove covered hoppers into yard 10 29 2011
Now the 53 is passing the passenger platforms at Amtrak Midway. The guy riding on the front steps returned my polite greeting as they passed. That dude was a credit to his company. Photo taken by Tony Held on 10-29-2011.
MNNR B30 7 54 pulling up with cut of hoppers by Amtrak Midway 10 29 2011
Here is the 54 as the crew pull up to Amtrak Midway with a cut of hoppers from the MNNR-operated ex-Milwaukee Road line along Hiawatha Avenue in Southeast Minneapolis. Photo taken by Tony Held on 10-29-2011.
MNNR B 23 7 1978 at Cleveland Ave roundhouse St Paul 10 29 2011
MNNR B23-7 reposes beneath a blue late October sky at the Cleveland Ave roundhouse. Photo taken by Tony Held on 10-29-2011.
MNNR B23 7 40 at Cleveland Ave sand tower St Paul 10 29 2011
MNNR B23-7 40 sits beneath the sand tower at the MNNR roundhouse. Photo taken by Tony Held on 10-29-2011.
B30 7 54 back at MNNR Cleveland Ave roundhouse St Paul 10 29 2011
And here is MNNR 54 back at the roundhouse after shoving its train up into the yard from Amtrak Midway. Photo taken by Tony Held on 10-29-2011.
MNNR C30 7 55 at Cleveland Avenue roundhouse St Paul 10 29 2011
MNNR C30-7 at rest in a line of engines at the roundhouse that includes M636 71. Photo taken by Tony Held on 10-29-2011.
MNNR C36 7 59 at Cleveland Ave roundhouse St Paul 10 29 2011
MNNR C36-7 at the roundhouse. Photo taken by Tony Held on 10-29-2011.
MNNR M420 35 at Cleveland Ave roundhouse St Paul 10 29 2011
MNNR M420 35 at the Cleveland Ave roundhouse. Picture was taken via the zoom lens feature on my point-and-shoot Olympus. Photo taken by Tony Held on 10-29-2011.
MNNR SF30 B 42 at Cleveland Ave roundhouse St Paul 10 29 2011
MNNR’s SF30-B 42 as it looked before repainting; here it is sitting at the roundhouse (natch.) Photo taken by Tony Held on 10-29-2011.
Quick renumber patch on MNNR 42 10 29 2011
A close-up of the yellow patch MNNR used to re-number the 42 with. Photo taken by Tony Held on 10-29-2011.

Minnesota Commercial photos: Volume two

MC SF30B 42 at Cleveland Ave roundhouse 8 13 2011
Here is ex-BNSF exx-Santa Fe SF30B 42 sporting a yellow patch over half the old road number. The unit was repainted MNNR red in 2012.  Photographed by Tony Held at MNNR roundhouse on 8-13-2011.
MNNR MLW 636 CAT 71 Cleveland Ave roundhouse 8 13 2011
Ah, the “Monster of the Midway” I presume; MNNR’s ex-CP MLW 636 CAT 71 basks beneath balmy skies at the MNNR roundhouse. Photo taken by Tony Held on 8-13-2011.
MNNR C30 7 55 and B23 7 1982 Cleveland Ave roundhouse 8 13 2011
A pair of MNNR GE units -C30-7 55 and B23-7 1982- at rest near the roundhouse sand tower. Photo taken by Tony Held on 8-13-2011.
MNNR C36 7 59 and B23 7 2002 Cleveland ave roundhouse 8 13 2011
Two more MNNR GE units at the roundhouse; C36-7 59 and B23-7 2002. Photo taken by Tony Held on 8-13-2011.
MNNR Alco C424 314 at Cleveland ave roundhouse 8 13 2011
Behold, an Aclocsaur! C424 314 (an ex-Green Bay and Western unit) rests beneath sunny summer skies in the motive power pack you can always find at the roundhouse. Note that the barbed wire-topped chain link fence had not yet been installed to keep the riff-raff out. Photo taken by Tony Held on 8-13-2011.
Old MTRR sign on Cleveland Ave roundhouse 8 13 2011
An old sign on the roundhouse still proudly proclaims MNNR predecessor Minnesota Transfer. Photo taken by Tony Held on 8-13-2011.
MNNR sign on Cleveland Avenue roundhouse 8 13 2011
The old steam-era Minnesota Transfer sign on the Cleveland Avenue roundhouse has been supplemented with this SW-shaped MNNR sign. Photo taken by Tony Held on 8-13-2011.
Cleveland Ave wye signal box sign 8 13 2011
This sign is affixed to the signal box on the wye leg that crosses Cleveland Avenue connecting the old Minnesota Transfer to the old Milwaukee Road Short Line route to the Short Line bridge. Photo taken by Tony Held on 8-13-2011.
MNNR B 23 7 40 switching yard St Paul 8 13 2011
Here we find MNNR B23-7 40 switching up in their yard as viewed from the Amtrak Midway station platform. Photo taken by Tony Held on 8-13-2011.
Roseville station sign 8 20 2011
This stretch of ex-BN exx-Northern Pacific track in Roseville is now operated by the Minnesota Commercial to access the old NP “Skally Line” fragment to Hugo. Note the “Roseville” station sign at the left. Photo taken by Tony Held on 8-20-2011.

Minnesota Commercial photos: Volume one

MNNR 84 MNNR roundhouse St Paul 3 31 2013
A “new” (for MNNR) unit is ex-LMX B39-8E 84, pictured here at the MNNR’s ex-Minnesota Transfer roundhouse off Cleveland Ave in St Paul. Photo taken by Tony Held on 3-31-2013.
MNNR 87 MNNR roundhouse St Paul 3 31 2013
Another ex-LMX B39-8E now on the MNNR roster is the 87, pictured here coupled to the 84 (out of sight at left) at the Cleveland Ave roundhouse. Photo taken by Tony Held on 3-31-2013.
MNNR 54 close up MNNR roundhouse 3 31 2013
A nose-on view of MNNR B30-7 54 at ease behind the barbed wire-topped chain link fence that protects the MNNR fleet units that are parked outside the MNNR roundhouse off Cleveland Avenue. I’d hate to have to work here after dark; the rowdies must come out big time if they needed to put that up! Photo taken by Tony Held on 3-31-2013.
CTM 1 at MNNR roundhouse St Paul 3 31 2013
Here is ex-Alco S13 CTM1, an ex-Canadian Pacific unit converted to remote control operation. It is pictured here at the MNNR roundhouse. Photo taken by Tony Held on 3-31-2013.
MNNR T3 and 88 below Raymond Ave bridge St P 3 31 2013
Here was the MNNR yard power for Easter Sunday, 2013, paused beneath the Raymond Avenue bridge at the north throat of the MNNR yard. Power was slug T-3 and B30-7 88. Note: the 54 and 88 are ex-Frisco units. Photo taken by Tony Held on 3-31-2013.
MNNR yard goats below Raymond Ave bridge St Paul  3 31 2013
Another shot of the MNNR T-3 and 88 paused beneath the Raymond Avenue bridge on Easter Sunday, 2013. Photo taken by Tony Held on 3-31-2013.
MNNR ex BNSF Santa Fe slug Saint Paul 4 21 2013
Speaking of slugs, here is ex-BNSF exx-Santa Fe slug 3954, parked alone on a disused industrial spur across from the MNNR roundhouse on a gloomy April afternoon. Photo taken by Tony Held on 4-21-2013.
NREX ex Santa Fe units at MNNR roundhouse 4 21 2013
And speaking of ex-BNSF exx-Santa Fe units, here are two ones MNNR has got from NREX: B23-7’s 4227 and 4221, reposing beneath grey April skies at the MNNR roundhouse. Photo taken by Tony Held on 4-21-2013.
MNNR 2002 at Cleveland Ave roundhouse 4 21 2013
MNNR B23-7 2002 is an ex-Conrail unit. On this gloomy April Sunday I had just caught it after spotting it crossing over Central Avenue running light to the roundhouse. Photo taken by Tony Held on 4-21-2013.
MNNR 313 and 314 at Cleveland Ave roundhouse 4 21 2013
Alcosaurs! Here are ex-Green Bay and Western C424s 313 and 314 at the MNNR roundhouse along with a piece of MOW equipment. Photo taken by Tony Held on 4-21-2013.
MNNR 84 and 58 after arrival at MNNR roundhouse 4 21 2013
Speaking of units arriving running light, here are ex-LMX B39-8E’s 58 and 84 just arrived at the MNNR roundhouse after arriving running light southbound on the MNNR’s ex-Minnesota Transfer main line. Photo taken by Tony Held on 4-21-2013.
Coach Merriam Park at MNNR roundhouse 4 21 2013
There are several passenger cars to be found at the MNNR roundhouse. Here is one of them, the “Merriam Park.” Note the roundhouse sand tower in the background. Photo taken by Tony Held on 4-21-2013.
Minnesota scale test track house and test car Saint Paul 4 21 2013
Across the way from the MNNR roundhouse stands the State of Minnesota’s scale test track house and it’s related rail car. Photo taken by Tony Held on 4-21-2013.
Minnesota test track house Saint Paul 4 21 2013
The other side of the State of Minnesota’s Master Track Scale house that stands across from the MNNR roundhouse. The Biffy commode indicates there is no indoor plumbing inside for the needs of workers! Photo taken by Tony Held on 4-21-2013.

Interview: Bruce McKenna on “The Pacific”

 

 

Pacific
Image copyright (c) 2010 HBO; image courtesy Wikimedia.

 

During the run of the HBO miniseries “The Pacific” I corresponded via private message at the Wild Bill Guarnere website forum with the head writer, Mr. Bruce McKenna (who also had a hand in writing “Band of Brothers.”) I have edited together our exchanges into an interview-style transcript.  –Tony Held

 

TH:

 

I beg your pardon sending you some “The Pacific”-related questions this way, for I tried registering with this website to ask you them: http://makingof.com/community/forums but the site’s application program seems to be busted. I didn’t get an ‘activate your account’ e-mail after trying twice, leaving this writer in limbo.

That said, here are my questions:

 

1. Chesty Puller gives a speech to his regimental NCOs in Part One. Did this actually happen or was it historical fiction at it’s best (i.e. a character holds a briefing with his men and the viewer finds out the war situation that way.)

 

2. References to Henderson Field pepper parts one and two, but we never see so much as a glimpse of the Cactus Air Force in action even though Robert Leckie in “Helmet For My Pillow” vividly describes a dog fight over his unit’s lines so well that I thought “Good stuff for ‘The Pacific’ “, but even that did not make it in. How come?

 

3. Leckie is shown with a party raiding Army supplies in Part To but “Helmet” only has him partaking in stolen goods, including the moccasins featured in the show. Why the dramatic narrative twist (if any), and did he really talk to two officers driving by with a case of Johnny Walker red?

 

4. Why wasn’t a glimpse given of the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal like Leckie vividly described it in HFMP? It would have helped viewers ignorant of Guadalcanal to realize “Hey, the US Navy DID come through” (and I thought I saw that battle being set up during the mess line scene where the one Marine grouses that he wants to hear reports of Japanese ships sunk by American ones off Guadalcanal, but was wrong.)

 

5. Where did you all find that neat train in part three?

 

6. I am confused on a point about Leckie in part four: wasn’t he able to avoid officer’s mess duty in real-life? I cannot recall that from “Helmet”, and wasn’t his “Somebody shoot me” line really said by another Marine (if I remember his book right)?

 

7. Moving on to Eugene Sledge, he says in “With The Old Breed” that the LVT’s they trained on had rear loading ramps but the ones they landed on Peleliu with did not have them. But in part five we see him board one on an LST that has a loading ramp at the rear but then he leaps over the side of it on the beach as he did in reality. Was this a continuity glitch?

 

8. Finally, and perhaps the most unexpected of questions: why the racy material featuring Leckie (and to a degree Sidney Phillip’s) Melbourne romances and John Basilone’s fling with “Miss Grey”? (Was she real or fictional, by the way?)

Isn’t that kind of invading their privacy in the name of, well, grafting “Sex and the City”-esque material into the program?

I am sure Leckie and Basilone would not have approved of that, and I wonder how Sidney Phillips felt about it (so far, in an interview, Phillips said his depiction of his Melbourne romance was “mostly Hollywood.”

 

BMcK:

I will answer your questions briefly in reverse order.

 

8. The Series is meant to accurately portray the INNER moral journeys of the characters. A huge part of those journeys during the war involved women. There is nothing gratuitous about Leckie falling in love with Stella and her breaking his heart. And there is nothing gratuitous about men, after combat, taking refuge in female flesh. It’s a very profound thing — way beyond the petty titillations that somehow appall certain viewers. The men needed to reestablish their humanity. They did this through food, sex, companionship with women (not just sex). Just as the combat violence is not gratuitous, but rather is meant to show the moral choices and arcs of each character, so too the scenes with women. And just so you know, Leckie told his own daughter that “if you went to Melbourne, you’d see a lot of kids who look just like you.” I don’t think he would have had a problem with our depiction of himself in Melbourne. If anything it was pretty tame. Virginia Grey did tour with basilone. Basilone was known to have slept with some starlets. Do we know for sure he slept with her? No. But it’s a good bet. He was catnip to women. Especially when he became the most famous soldier in the US. And as you’ll see in the next few episodes, Basilone’s dalliances with women are VERY important to understand his decisions in the future. We’re not putting these scenes in just for ratings. We’re doing it because you will understand the characters better.

 

7. The LVT snafu is just that. We are missing a line where Someone says the rear gate jammed. We didn’t have a working LVT2.

 

6. You have to realize that historical drama is not history. It is a hybrid and in order for it to work (move the audience to pity and terror, not just educate them dryly about an historical subject), you must combine, compress and take some liberties in the service of the larger truth you are trying to capture.

 

5. Melbourne and environs. There are lots of great old trains. And lots of great old tramcars.

 

4. He was too low in the jungle to see the battle you are referring to, as I recall. I’d have to go back and check.

 

3. See Answer 6.

 

2. This is a good question. We tried very hard, but often failed to convey accurately the degree of airplanes, etc. Part of it was budgetary.

 

1. Speech was inspired by Chesty’s respect for the NCOs in his command.

 

 

TH:

I and two other viewers have been discussing at WBG’s forums the “bunching up” of the Marines during the Peleliu airfield assault sequence and how it differs somewhat from a photograph in Sledge’s book of the event. Was this done for sake of the cameras being able to capture all the action or was it because the Peleliu airfield set was compressed down in size in comparison to the actual airfield at Peleliu like some of the “Band of Brothers” sets were of actual places?

BMcK:

This is a complex question with a complex answer. A few thoughts.

First, you can’t depend on any photographs to tell you the state of what it was like in any particular combat situation. We don’t know where the photographer was standing. We don’t know when he took his picture. We don’t know what direction he aimed his camera. So the sparsity of the shot could be typical, or an anomaly. Having said that, it is absolutely true that we have our guys closer together than they would have been, generally, during the airfield crossing. This was done for a few of reasons. One, the camera frame insists on being more “busy” for viewers; otherwise, the drama doesn’t work on a visceral level. Two, in order to recreate the terror the men felt (and I’m sure you remember what Sledge said about that airfield crossing), we also compacted it with more intense artillery than probably occurred. This is not done for gratuitous “Hollywood” reasons. It is done so that you, the viewer, intensely feel what the men themselves felt. This liberty is necessary to recreate the “Truth” of what it was like in the sense that the truths of Cinema and how cinema affects viewers is slightly different than it would be for real life (thank god!). Three, you are also correct that our set was probably one third the size of the actual airfield. Not the admin building, which was a one to one replication. But the runway and the crossing of it were compressed to about 300 yards, when in real life it would have been at least a thousand or more yards. This too, compresses the frame.

 

TH:

 

Six questions off the top of my head:

 

1. The ravines the leathernecks move through are pretty narrow. Was this more set compression for camera angle purposes, or is it really like what’s on Peleliu?

 

2. I found it interesting Snafu was composited with the medic who in real-life politely dissaued Sledge from taking gold teeth. What was your inspiration to do this? (I really liked that scene regardless of the dramatic license, btw.)

 

3. Is that a real Corsair landing in the background while Sledge and co. are resting towards the beginning? (Hope you all got at least one Warbird to use in the show.)

 

4. Is Basilone at a Shriner’s meeting when he gets that plaque (what did it say, by the way?)

 

5. What inspired you to create the superb sequence with Basilone on the driving range recalling the ‘Canal? It reminded me of how Captain Winters recalls in the BOB ep[isode] “Crossroads” how he lead a bayonet charge in Holland.

 

6. I thought that perhaps for dramatic effect Sledge would be with Ack-ack when he is shot but that entire sequence is totally true to Sledge’s book. What inspried you to leave Haldane’s fate true to history in the show? (His fate makes me sad, btw. Haldane was an alumnus of Bowdoin College, alma mater of Gettysburg hero Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, leader of the 20th Maine during its stand at Little Round Top. Hope old Josh was there to greet Ack-ack in heaven.)

 

BMcK:

 

1. Both. Some ravines were wider, some were very very narrow. And we had to compress for camera purposes.

 

2. You can’t have too many characters or audience loses focus. So it’s imperative that you compress.

 

3. Nope. All done in a computer!

 

4. The Shriners wouldn’t allow us to show them or name them on screen (can you believe it?), so what you see is our own creation.

5. Basilone, in actuality, was a golfer. He may have boxed, but what he loved was golf. He caddied when young. So we felt it was surprising and accurate.

 

6. It might have been more powerful to show Haldane getting shot…but we decided to keep Sledge’s book intact, because that’s how he would have experienced it.

 

I would like to give a hearty “thank you” to Mr. McKenna for taking the time to answer my questions, and for granting me permission to publish this interview.

Eight bits of short story

Editing proofreading image
Photo by Tony Held.

 

1.  Canby the empty man

Canby hated his life with a passion.   So much so, he had become an empty shell.   Someone who ate, slept, and did little more than that.   Life now flowed past Canby like he was an island in the stream.   As he sat there spooning cereal into his mouth, his face looked as pensive as a kid who did not want to go to school.

2. Morant and God

If Morant had had his way, God would have drawn a line in the dirt with His sword and called out to all His believers to cross it as if he were Colonel Travis at the Alamo.   But Morant would not have crossed it. Just like legend said one decided not to do at the Alamo, because that soldier was “not ready to die.”   Morant heaved a deep sigh as he clicked the turn signal.   God had not given him such an option.   Now here he was, trapped by His will yet again in a situation he did not want to face ever again: a lean bank account that now compelled him to pull into the parking lot of a Cub Foods.   He cursed Him over and over as he crossed the snowy parking lot, bound for the employment kiosk inside.

3.  Yablonski’s dream and reality

Wow, that sure felt real, Yablonski thought as his eyes opened.   So real he swore he really had been living the good life.  One that had been chock full of wine, women, song, and plenty mucho money for him to spend on whatever he wanted.

He turned his eyes to the alarm clock.  “4:30” it read.   Just enough time to snooze ninety more minutes before he would wake up for the day.   A day of yet another shit standing by a register with an orange apron that said “Home Depot” over his street clothes.

4. George and Morris

When it came to customer service, George warmed to the task like he had been born to it.   He always had a friendly greeting backed by a smile ready for the men and women young and old that came to his register.  

By contrast, Morris went about his rounds at the grocery store like he was a clerk immersed in ledger.   He kept only one eye cocked for customers to meet and greet.   Sometimes he did as well as George.   Other times all Morris could do was “phone it in” as best he could, doing his best to play the part in the vital meeting and greeting of customers so vital for sales, sales, and more sales; or so the company propaganda claimed.  

Despite this 180 degree difference in work ethic, both men had become good friends.   When together they mutually bemoaned both the downsides of working for such a big grocery chain and their apparently eternal lack of success in meeting eligible women they could date.

5. Harry’s diary

As Harry scribbled away in his diary, his dog alternately looked out the window of his car and lay contentedly on the passenger seat next to him.   The sun had begun to set in a glorious blaze.   Harry scarcely paid it attention as he scribbled away; felt like the soldier named Sago in Letters from Iwo Jima as he buried hundreds of letter destined never to be sent home from Iwo.  

6. John hates Walter Mitty

Even fantasy no longer let John escape the drab realities he confronted every waking moment.   The powers of those escapist daydreams to perfect worlds were at last spent.

Eat shit and die, Walter Mitty! He thought grimly as he punched in for work.   You can’t hide in your daydreams forever.

7. Lloyd’s upset stomach

Lloyd stood on the asphalt path, his bicycle lying on the grass near him.   He kept watch on it out of the corner of his eye as he scribbled notes down onto scraps of paper. But the words did not soothe the burning ache in his belly and, by extension, his soul. 

8. Mickey and the Ides of March.

“Beware the Ides of March!”

“Not me, man,” Mickey’s reply to that saying always went.  “In my family, the freakin’ Ides of March come in freakin’ February.”

 

Randall Wallace’s “Pearl Harbor” script vs. the truth: part one

Composite image by Tony Held.
Composite image by Tony Held.

 

Introduction

Was there any truth in Randall Wallace’s script when he depicted Jimmy Doolittle’s men making requests to bomb the Imperial Palace in Tokyo?

 

Wallace’s script:

 

“INT.  CARRIER HORNET – BRIEFING ROOM – DAY

 

The ships is rolling; most of the fliers are green.

Doolittle stands at the podium.

 

DOOLITTLE

Since we’ll be on our own once we’re in

the air, I thought I had a good idea

letting each crew select it’s own target.

 

He looks at a pile of paper slips in front of him.

 

DOOLITTLE

Now we have fifteen requests for the

Emperor’s Palace…and one for Tokyo

baseball stadium.

 

RED

I d-don’t think Japs ought’a be allowed

to p-play baseball.

 

DOOLITTLE

I’d like to bomb their Emperor too.  But

I think that’d just piss ’em off.  The

idea here, Gentlemen, is not revenge.

We’re here to prove to them that they’re

neither invincible nor superior.  So

let’s try this again.  Military targets

only.

 

RED

Colonel, to f-fight you need strategy.

To have strategy, ya gotta practice.  And

to practice it, ya gotta play —

 

DOOLITTLE

No baseball diamonds, Red.

 

RED

Y-Yes Sir.”

 

The truth:

The scene bears no resemblance to historical reality whatsoever.    Indeed, it stinks to high heaven of B-war movie drivel.   While the exposition via a briefing concept is sound, there isn’t any of the creative exposition with a human touch that defines epics like The Longest Day, A Bridge Too Far, or Gettysburg.  And the bit about the Tokyo baseball stadium is especially clumsy; expressly created by Wallace for his excruciatingly lame fictional character “Red” in the name of “comic relief” that falls flat on its face.

His depiction of the assembled pilots as being seasick is questionable; this author has yet to read an account by a Doolittle Raider that mentions it during their time on the Hornet.   What is more, the only foul weather encountered by the task force was on the day of the mission.   The days before were relatively pleasant.  The Hornet would have been fairly stable during the (numerous) pre-raid briefings that took place.

But did any of Doolittle’s pilots and crews wish to hit the Imperial Palace?   Jimmy Doolittle, in his memoirs, recalls an incident far more dramatic than Wallace’s insipid fantasy:

‘I met with the crews every day and we always ate together in the wardroom.  On one occasion, I heard a couple of the boys talking about bombing the emperor’s palace-the “Temple of Heaven.”   I promptly jumped into their conversation.

“You are to bomb military targets only,” I told them.  “There is nothing that would unite the Japanese nation more than to bomb the Emperor’s home. It is not a military target!  And you are to avoid hospitals, schools, and other nonmilitary targets.”

I told them about my visit to Britain in 1940 when the German Luftwaffe had bombed Buckingham Palace, a useless attack that had only served to bring the British even more closely together.   Attacking the Temple of Heaven, the home of Japan’s venerated spiritual leader, would unite the Japanese people just as much, if not more so.  The emperor’s home was of historic as well as religious value to the Japanese; therefore, before leaving the States, even though I could have designated it a specific target, I unilaterally made the decision that we would not bomb it.   I consider this admonition one of the most serious I ever made to bombardment crews during the war.’  2

Doolittle also related another incident about the palace:

‘Several times during the next few days, I reiterated my warning about bombing the imperial palace because I heard a rumor that a couple pilots had been cutting cards to see who would get the emperor.  “It’s not worth a plane factory, a shipyard, or an oil refinery, so leave it alone,” I remonstrated again.  Apparently, my previous cautions about this had not had the desired effect, which made me very angry.’ 3

Craig Nelson in his book The First Heroes quotes Lt. Harold “Doc” Watson –pilot of Whirling Dervish, the ninth Doolittle Raid plane to take off from the Hornet– as claiming he and his crew planned on crashing into the palace if fatally hit over Tokyo. 4 Watson’s navigator, the late Tom Griffin, scotched Watson’s in a letter to the author:

“I’m one who believes that time can do strange things to some people’s memories.   Crew #9 did not have any [emp. Griffin’s] plans to bomb Hirohito’s Palace under any circumstances.   The Boss [Doolittle] had told us that such a strike would only enrage and unite the Japanese people and we were forbidden to bomb his place under any circumstances.” 5

 

Conclusion

Wallace grossly distorted the truth.   Not only did Jimmy Doolittle not want to bomb Hirohito himself, he had decided the Imperial Palace was off-limits long before the Doolittle Raid task force set sail.    (His casual use of profanity in the script is wildly out of character as well.   Doolittle rarely swore, and only when genuinely angry.)   He also grossly distorted facts by having most of his pilots request the palace when given the choice of targets.   As we have seen, Doolittle clamped down on such ideas from the get-go.   Nor did pilots have to clear their targets with Doolittle in any case; he trusted their judgment.  Finally, putting the words “I’d like to bomb their Emperor too” into Doolittle’s mouth is pure fiction; Doolittle did not ever express any animus towards Hirohito at any point in his life.

Randall Wallace did Jimmy Doolittle and his men a gross disservice by depicting them as gung-ho “Let’s get the Emperor!” flyboys in his script.   Nor did Jerry Bruckheimer and Michael Bay help matters when they filmed it.   All three should be ashamed of themselves.  Pearl Harbor (2001) is a black mark on their records for this gross distortion of the truth alone.

“But it’s just a movie!” one might argue.   In reply, this writer offers the following quote from none other than Jimmy Doolittle himself: “When truth goes out the window, we all lose something.”   We owe it to people like Doolittle and his men to get their story right when we tell it; so future generations yet to come can learn from it, and not be misled by tissues of celluloid lies that that Messrs.  Wallace, Bruckheimer, and Bay spun.

 

1. “Pearl Harbor,” original screenplay.

2.  James H. Doolittle with Carrol V. Glines, I Could Never be so Lucky Again (Bantum paperback edition, 1992), 246

3.  Ibid, 247

4.  Craig Nelson, The First Heroes (Penguin Books, 2003), 133

5.  Tom Griffin, letter to author, February 2,2007.

 

 

 

Mahala’s Cry: a forgotten story of the Titanic

mahala-douglas-1920
Mahala Douglas in 1920. Image credit:  Encyclopedia-Titanica.

 

 

April 15th, 1912 …

Arthur Rostron, master of the liner Carpathia, stood on his bridge watching a green flare flickering in the darkness ahead.

At first he had hoped it meant the vessel he had driven his own 58 miles in response to her distress call was still afloat.  Now he knew such hopes were in vain.

As he carefully maneuvered his vessel around an iceberg to take alongside the lifeboat the flare had come from, the officer in it, Joseph Boxhall, cried “We only have one seaman in the boat and cannot work very well.”

“All right.”  Rostron called back.

Then the night was suddenly rent by a woman’s voice; a desperate, anguished voice which cried “The Titanic has gone down with everyone on board!”

That woman was Mahala Douglas, of Deephaven, Minnesota.

If anyone had told her the Titanic centered [on] a Hollywood love story, she would have been appalled.

For Mahala and the other women torn from the men they loved that night, the Titanic was anything but a love story.

Mahala and her husband Walter were native Iowans who had recently moved to the Lake Minnetonka area; where Walter built a magnificent mansion in Deephaven which he named “Walden” in honor of one of his sons.

After Walter’s retirement, he took Mahala on a leisurely trip abroad to celebrate it.

They finally started for home on April 10th, 1912, when they boarded the Titanic at Cherbourg, France.

Like most passengers, they felt only a slight bump when the Titanic collided with the fateful iceberg.

At first Walter did not consider the emergency to be very serious, but by the time they were on the boat deck by the Titanic‘s lifeboat number 2, the grim situation was so apparent Mahala begged Walter to come with him.

Walter refused.  Saying “I must be a gentleman.”

It was at that lifeboat Mahala would last see Walter alive.

The sinking of the Titanic was so distressing for Mahala to watch, it led to her desperate cry to the Carpathia; though she calmed down after Boxhall snapped at her “Shut up.”

Back home, Mahala sent an affidavit about her experiences to Senator William Alden Smith, head of the US Senate Titanic inquiry.

Soon thereafter, Walter’s body was found floating in the ocean by the corpse-recovery ship Mackay Bennet.

It became Mahala’s sad duty to accompany his body back to their native Iowa for burial.

[101] years later, their story is forgotten.

The Titanic was a saga whose emotional truth centered not on fairy tale romance but on cold, raw death and destruction.   A truth borne out by stories locked within it such as that of Walter and Mahala Douglas.

This April 15th, forget Hollywood’s “Titanic” and, instead, remember the likes of this couple and their story.

They and every other person whose story is entwined with that of the Titanic disaster deserve no less.

 

Originally published as “Deephaven’s Titanic ties” in the April 14th, 2009 edition of the Lakeshore Weekly News under my old byline “Richard Krebes.”  -T.H.

 

 

 

 

Way to go “Lights!”: Saluting a real Titanic hero

Charles_Lightoller
Charles Herbert Lightoller. Image courtesy Wikimedia.

 

In 1998 you could not turn on the TV, surf the internet, or read a newspaper or magazine without running into a reference to the film better entitled Two Tragic Teen Lovers at Sea.   I remember well one bit of James Cameron movie-related piffle that appeared in the Lake Minnetonka, MN, based Lakeshore Weekly News.   It used to have a hunting column that appeared monthly.   In one column from ’98 the author included a subsection entitled “Way to go Rose!”   In it he prattled and gushed about how Kate Winslett’s  Cameron Titanic film character Rose used a whistle to attract the attention of a lifeboat.   I wish I could have written a blistering letter to the editor pointing out the real-life Titanic survivor the author should have cheered instead: Charles Herbert Lightoller.

The ship’s second officer (though originally holding the rank of first until a shakeup occurred at Southampton, England, prior to the maiden voyage) Lightoller not only stayed aboard the Titanic until the end, he also cheated death not once, but twice.  Both when he was sucked under by water flooding into grates placed on top of the Titanic‘s deckhouse.   Breaking free at last, “Lights” Lightoller took charge of Collapsible B, a lifeboat launched upside down when the Titanic took her death-time during the sinking’s grim finale.   Later on that night to remember, Lightoller spotted a lifeboat nearby.   He reached into his sodden, frozen trouser pocket and extracted his officer’s whistle.   The calls from his whistle attracted the lifeboat’s attention and the survivors clinging to boat B were saved.   But Lightoller had one heroic act left to play.   The boat that picked up B’s survivors -boat Twelve- became dangerously overloaded as a consequence.   As Twelve struggled through a rising chop towards the rescue ship Carpathia after daybreak, it was only thanks to “Lights'” seamanship that they reached the Carpathia safely.   To cap it all, Lightoller waited until all other survivors had boarded before he climbed up the ladder himself.

What a marvelous hero!   Sadly, James Cameron relegated Lightoller to a scenery-chomping bit part in his chick/disaster flick.   God forbid if any real-life heroes should steal the show from the one-dimensional twerp Cameron named Jack Dawson and made the film’s “hero.”   Happily enough, “Lights” got a terrific film depiction in the 1958 classic A Night to Remember in the form of a dynamic performance by Kenneth More.

And so, returning to that piffle scribbled by that Lakeshore Weekly News scribe, we can strike out  “Way to go Rose!” And put in its place: Way to go “Lights!”