Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Master Sergeant "Bull" Graham

Graham is one of the many forgotten men of the Korean War. Though he is largely forgotten today (I could only get information on him from David Halberstam's The Coldest Winter, as there is no information about him on the internet), his story is no less amazing.

"Bull" Graham got his nickname, like many other NCO's with the same nickname, from his tough demeanor. He was a lifer who had never married, going on the maxim that "If the Army wanted you to have a wife, it would of issued you one." Though he was extremely tough, his men liked him. He felt that he could not be very personable with his men, as he didn't want to get too attached to anybody. For him, it was hard enough to see his men die, but it would be far worse to see friends die. Graham was the leader of the first platoon of Company C, or Charlie Company, later named, "The late Charlie Company."

This was still early in the war, in September, 1950, and the North Koreans were pushing their way farther and farther into South Korea. Their last big push was going to be going across the Nakdong River and spilling into the Puson perimeter. This was seen as an essential thing to stop to keep the North Koreans from literally driving the Americans and South Koreans off the peninsula. It was essential for the Americans to hold their ground at the east bank of the Nakdong River, though they had very little men and ammunition. The situation was grim for the American forces, but they realized that if they held off the North Koreans here, they might be able to push them back north. To make matters worse, when the North Koreans were amassing, it was during terrible weather, so the Air Force could not help the Americans. The North Koreans outnumbered the Americans greatly and started to push through the desperately thin American lines. Charlie Company was one of the companies that was basically fighting to buy time until hopefully some other troops or air support could help them. It was no use, as the North Koreans were quickly forming a proverbial noose around the American's necks.

When commanders from Charlie Company asked command if they could retreat and let the men get out of this grave situation, the answer came back that they must hold their ground. Communications were abruptly cut by the North Koreans and Graham and the other commanders decided that they had to leave, that this was suicide. Having already lost twelve to fifteen soldiers from his platoon, he gathered the rest of them to get onto higher ground so they may be able to stave off being overrun by the enemy. They quickly scavenged for ammunition, as they were completely out for most of their guns. The only thing they had were a Quad 50, which was four fifty caliber machine guns put together, and a Dual 40. They used these until they had to retreat further and watched as their own machine guns were turned against them. Taking very heavy fire, they got to the top of a large hill, but unfortunately there were North Koreans on an even higher hill, and Charlie company found itself being rained down upon with bullets. There were only twenty-five men left out of the company, which included Captain Bartoley, Corporal Jessie Wallace, Lieutenant Wilson, Private First Class Arnold Lobo who was the medic, and Private First Class David Ormand who was the radio man. Ormand was considered living on borrowed time, as he had is radio shot clean off his back. Captain Bartoley had to crawl over and carry a badly shaken Ormand to safety.

Upon realizing that they were not out of the woods yet, Graham was shot in the rear. The company used all the bullets they had, but they could do nothing against the massive North Korean force. Graham was shot again in the rear, but from a different angle. He instantly lost feeling in his legs. He took his undershorts off and had Lobo fold them in half and use them to stanch the bleeding. As far as Graham could tell, all of the men left of Charlie Company had been hit. A few men asked Graham what they should do; should they fight, run, or surrender. Surrender would of been a viable option in any other war, but the men had heard stories, true ones it turned out, of American prisoners found with their hands tied behind their backs with wire and shot in the head, then buried in shallow graves. They wondered though how they could fight without any ammo. He told them he was dying, and that they had to make the decision on their own. Graham noticed a halt in fire and realized that his men had decided to surrender. Graham was relieved that no one was killed outright, but later heard that Wilson and Lobo had been killed while prisoners. The rest of the men were later recaptured by American troops.

Two North Korean troops passed by without stopping at Graham. The third took notice and stripped him of his boots, watch, socks, cigarette lighter, and his little black book in which he had wrote down all the names of the men that had pissed him off in any way shape or form. The book wouldn't be any good to him now. Most of the men listed in the book were dead now, and he felt that he was about to join them. He was asked if he was an officer and he told them no, that he was a GI (remember that these are communist forces who declared any higher up military man to be a worse capitalist than the regular GI's. If you were captured, you were to say you were poor and were just a GI). Unfortunately for Graham, the North Korean troop had a "Smart John." "Smart Johns" were officers who seemed smarter and meaner than the other men in the troop. The officer put the end of his gun against Grahams forehead and motioned for him to get up. Graham motioned that he was unable to get up. The officer than made a mocking stabbing motion towards Graham's genitals. Graham again motioned that he could not get up and pointed toward the bloody area under his waist. The officer left to look at other survivors, though Graham wasn't alone for long. Other soldiers came up and started mocking Graham, asking him in primitive English how old he was and if he wanted some water. Graham tried to get a drink from the, but the soldiers refused. The "Smart John" came back and, perhaps realizing that Graham was too far gone to bother with, took his dog tags and left.

Miraculously, after twelve hours, Graham finally felt strong enough to crawl off. For the next twelve nights he crawled and limped towards what he thought was American positions. He hid out during the day and moved as quietly as possible at night. In the first twenty-four hours he believed he may of only gone one hundred yards. Eventually he found a stick and used it as a crutch. He drank water when he could, often resorting to drinking the dew off the grass. By the time he got to an American position, he had a heavy beard and mustache that he swore was so long that it was curling at the ends. He looked gaunt as hell, having lost some fifty pounds. To the officers in the camp, it was as if a ghostly apparition had appeared. Major Butch Barbaras, having just opened a beer, saw the ghostly figure and decided to give the beer to him. "Best thing I ever tasted," Graham told Barbaras. For Graham, his Korean War was over. Only fifteen men made it in Charlie Company. The company then gained it's infamous nickname, "The late Charlie Company." To all those who were wondering, the Americans were able to hold the line in the end and the coast of the Nakdong River was the farthest that the North Koreans ever got. The push to the north had started.

*Note*: The above picture is not of "Bull" Graham, as there are none that can be found on the internet. This is a common theme among Korean war commanders .The picture is of a soldier from Charlie Company though, but I'm sure Graham looked much tougher.

All information gathered from The Longest Winter by David Halberstam. I'm only a little ways into the book but it's extremely good and very informative on the Korean War.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Valentine's Day

Valentine's day is one of those holidays that either you celebrate or you don't. It's easier to forget than other holidays like Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter and Halloween...unless you're in a relationship. If you don't have a significant other, then you probably hate this holiday and wish it would just get over with. If you do have someone...well....the day can still be painful. If you forget this holiday while in a relationship, you lose. I'm almost just talking to guys. This is an important day, unless your interest doesn't care, then you're off the hook! But don't assume that they don't care. That's a big mistake. Ugh...this holiday is stressful. It didn't used to be like this. Surprisingly though, valentine's day isn't a very old holiday. It's only really come into it's own as a holiday in the 1800's. But what about before that?

Valentine's day, or Saint Valentine's day is based off this specific saint. There are many St. Valentine's in history, so nobody is really sure which one is attributed to the holiday. The legend of one of the St. Valentine's goes like this: St. Valentine is a persecuted Christian and is interrogated by Roman Emperor Claudius II in person. Claudius is impressed with Valentine and tries to get him to convert to Roman paganism in order to save his life. Valentine refuses and tries to convert Claudius instead. This leads to Valentine being sentenced to death. Before he was killed though, he performed a miracle by healing the blind daughter of his jailer. Since this story still provided no connections whatsoever with sentimental love, appropriate lore has been embroidered in modern times to portray Valentine as a priest who refused an unattested law attributed to Roman Emperor Claudius II, allegedly ordering that young men remain single. The Emperor supposedly did this to grow his army, believing that married men did not make for good soldiers. The priest Valentine, however, secretly performed marriage ceremonies for young men. When Claudius found out about this, he had Valentine arrested and thrown in jail. The most popular version of the story, though there is no historical evidence, is that Valentine gave a card to the jailer's daughter whom he healed, whom he considered his beloved, and signed it "From your Valentine."

A day being attributed to Valentine wasn't mentioned until Geoffrey Chaucer mentioned it in a poem. After that, the actual day was pegged on February 14th due to the establishment of the "High Court of Love" in Paris in 1400. The court dealt with love contracts, betrayals, and violence against women. The day further became a day of courting during the Renaissance and further on.

In 1797, a book called The Young Man's Valentine Writer was published, which gave men scores of sentimental verses to recite to their sweethearts. The business of valentine's day cards was born around this time too, as people were able to send these valentine's cards to people anonymously through the mail if they chose. Even though it was Victorian times, people were sending racy cards anonymously through the mail. The Victorian age in Britain also promoted the giving of flowers and chocolates to your sweetheart on the day. By the 1840's, the valentine's day fever had spread to America. Not much has changed since then. We still are encouraged to buy chocolates and flowers for our other half. We still give out a bunch of cartoon valentine's day cards to all of our friends in school and hope that after all the effort we put into making that shoe box look nice and cutting a hole in the top, we might just get the most cards. I'm having terrible elementary school flashbacks. Why did I buy Lion King ones so many years?

The biggest addition to the "things you're supposed to give your loved one" is jewelry. In the 1980's, jewelry stores realized that they could be cashing in off this holiday too and insisted that if a women didn't get an set of earrings or a necklace from her boyfriend/husband then he's just a cheap jerk. Counting children valentine's day cards, America produces about 1 billion valentine's day cards a year. With the rise of the internet, some people have chosen to keep it simple and just send an e-card, though I haven't seen one those in eight years.

Though Valentine's Day has kind of a murky beginning and it's hard to really associate it with love and affection, it has turned into just that. Sweetest Day is the cousin to Valentine's Day, but nobody really cares about that holiday. Don't forget Love Day, made up by the greeting card companies after the success of Christmas 2.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Abraham Lincoln: An extraordinary life

I have already given you a glimpse at Lincoln's life in the time that he was president. To honor his memory on his birthday, I will give you the rest of Lincoln's story.

America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves. -Abraham Lincoln

Lincoln, who was given no middle name, was born to Thomas and Nancy Lincoln in a one room log cabin in Harding County, Kentucky. Lincoln had a somewhat happy childhood at first, living in a religious household (though Lincoln in the future never joined a church), and the family enjoyed Thomas' well known status in the community. This all changed when they lost all their property and had to move to Perry County, Indiana to start anew. Then Nancy Lincoln died from the dreaded milk sickness, a deadly sickness that happens when a person drinks milk from a cow that fed on White Snakeroot, which is poisonous to humans but not to cows. Not long after, Lincoln also lost his older sister Sarah, who died while giving birth. His father married Sarah Johnston and Lincoln and her became very close. The same did not happen between Lincoln and his father however, as he was embarrassed by his father's lack of education and the amount of farm labor that he had to do under him. Though he loathed it, he still worked hard on his family land and gave all the money he earned from working outside of their land to his father, as was customary until a man was twenty-one years old.

The family moved, fearing a milk sickness outbreak, to several different places in Illinois, ending in Coles County, Illinois. This is where Lincoln, at the age of twenty-two, decided to strike out on his own. He worked on a shipping boat on the Mississippi, taking goods down to New Orleans, but only for one trip. He got to New Orleans, saw slavery firsthand, and walked back home. Lincoln's formal education only lasted eighteen months, and the rest came from self-education. He was known as a rough and tumble wrestler as a young man, but was considered lazy by his family and their friends.

Lincoln's love life was an interesting thing. It started out great, then went downhill, never to come back again. His first love was Ann Rutledge. People who lived in the area claimed that Lincoln and Rutledge were incredibly happy together and it was assumed that they were to be married soon. All Rutledge had to do was get acceptance from a past love. Their marriage was not to be though, as Rutledge died of what was most likely typhoid fever. He next met Mary Owens, but it was a long distance relationship, and they grew apart. Then, the worst thing that could of ever happened to Lincoln reared it's ugly head; he met Mary Todd. Mary was from a wealthy slave-holding family in Kentucky and was used to the rich lifestyle. Lincoln was not and the two didn't seem to be the greatest match. Lincoln courted Mary however, and they were all set to be married. Then Lincoln got cold feet and called it off. They met up months later and decided to give it another go, with this marriage date sticking.

At twenty-three, Lincoln opened a small general store with the help of a partner. Though the economy was booming in the area, the store struggled and Lincoln and the partner had to close it, amounting in a large debt for Lincoln. He then tried his hand at politics, which thankfully stuck, though it would take a long time. He campaigned for the Illinois General Assembly but finished eighth out of thirteen candidates. Shortly before the election, Lincoln served in the militia during the Black Hawk War, though he never saw any combat. Lincoln had some success early on in politics as he served as part of the state legislature for a time, then becoming a lawyer. After being admitted to the bar in 1837, he moved to Springfield, Illinois to practice under Mary Todd's cousin. During this time he also served on the Illinois House of Representatives for four consecutive terms. It was at this time that he started to form his opinion on slavery, feeling that slavery should not be expanded, but not taken away. He supported Henry Clay however, in his cause to make the abolition of slavery practical by helping slaves go back to Africa.

Lincoln was a Whig during his early years in politics and served as one in the U.S. House of Representatives for one two-year term. In that time he opposed James K. Polk and his decision to go to war with Mexico, and decided that when Henry Clay couldn't get nominated, supported war hero Zachery Taylor. Going back home, he became a well known lawyer. After the wedding between Mary Todd and Lincoln, they moved into a house near Lincoln's law practice and quickly started a family. Robert Todd Lincoln was born in 1843, and their second son, Edward Baker Lincoln, was born in 1846. Edward did not live long however, as he succumbed to tuberculosis in 1850, though his death was largely assuaged by the birth of William "Willy" Lincoln. Willy however died during Lincoln's first term in 1862 of a fever, which further plunged both parents into what is now considered clinical depression. Lincoln was especially close with Willy and his death struck a hard blow on him. Tad Lincoln, their last son, was born in 1853.

In the mid-1850's, Lincoln's loyalties began to falter. The Kansas-Nebraska Act, which had repealed the Missouri Compromise, had basically split the Whigs over the issue of slavery. The split led to the creation of the Republican Party, which included people from the Know-Nothing party(the anti-immigrant party), the Whigs, and the Free-Soil Party (a party that supported the abolition of slavery). Lincoln decided to go along with the Republicans, and then set his sights on a Senate seat for Illinois. His opponent was Stephen A. Douglas, the "Little Giant." Douglas was the incumbent and preached the notion of popular sovereignty to decide what new states were free or slave. Lincoln opposed him by making his speeches about the stop of the expansion of slavery. The debates between them became the famous "Lincoln-Douglas debates." Though Lincoln put up a good fight, Douglas kept his seat. This flung Lincoln into the limelight, and he soon was in talks to try a hand at being president. Lincoln gained support, but many didn't feel that he would even get close to a nomination for president. Lincoln however received the nomination for his moderate view on slavery and support of internal improvements. Lincoln, though was considered a moderate to Republicans, was an extremist to the United States. His view against the expansion of slavery still didn't jive with southerners, though he never claimed he wanted to get rid of slavery outright. Even though Lincoln's name was not on almost any ballot in the south, he still won the election.

To learn more about his presidency and assassination, I would recommend my other article on Lincoln. To finish this one, I will go about giving additional information on his home life and his funeral. Mary Todd didn't make things easy for Lincoln. They really didn't get along on many levels and she was constantly buying clothes, and I mean hundreds of dollars a day of clothing. Mary went further into her weird shopping habits and bipolar behavior after Willy died. The stress of dealing with an insane wife, losing two sons, and a bloody war had aged Lincoln terribly in his time as president. Lincoln, like I had mentioned in my other post, had many strange dreams. He would always have the same dream that would trumpet big happenings. The strangest dream he had, though this is only a rumor, as it came from a second hand source, showed Lincoln that he would die soon. In the dream, he is walking around the White House and sees a group of people grieving over a casket. He cannot see who it is and no one in the rooms seems to notice him. Finally, Lincoln begs a soldier present to tell him who that poor soul is that has died. The soldier looks at him with a frightful face and declares that the president has been assassinated. This supposedly took place only a few days before Lincoln's assassination.

Mary Todd's behavior did one good thing for history however. Her bipolar-ness was not very attractive to others and Mary did not have many close friends. One person that could not stand her was Ulysses S. Grant's wife, Julia. When the Grant's were asked to accompany the Lincoln's to see a play at Ford's Theater, she refused because she didn't want to be around Mary. This refusal may have saved Grant's life, as he would have been a target of assassination had he been there with Lincoln that night.

Though Lincoln and Mary had a very strained relationship, there is no record of Lincoln ever cheating on her, making him one of the few presidents not to cheat on his wife or take up a mistress. One of the last things they did together, besides see the play at the Ford's Theater, was take a carriage ride together, as it was one of Mary's favorite things to do. Lincoln probably regretted marrying Mary Todd, but he did love her no matter how crazy she was.

After Lincoln died, there was a question of how to pull off the funeral. They couldn't allow millions of people to crowd into Washington D.C., for it would cause pandemonium. It was decided that instead, they would bring Lincoln to the masses. They would have a funeral train that went through all the big cities of the north. The last stop would be Springfield, Illinois. This was risky, as methods of keeping Lincoln from looking like a gross corpse were in their infant stages. They pumped him with as much embalming fluid as they could to have him keep through the journey and the funeral train set out. Many of the cities decorated their areas in mourning colors and made a huge celebration out of the funeral, most notably New York City. There were public viewings allowed but people had to wait in line for hours just to see Lincoln for a few seconds. As the train went further on it's journey, many began to see Lincoln's body become less life-like due to the heat. Makeup was put on him so as not to scare people when they saw him. The funeral train did not go off without a hitch though, as there were many southern sympathizers who were in northern cities. Random people would shout pro-south slogans as the train passed, or would say something against Lincoln, and were promptly beaten, many to death. Such was the fervor and air of anger and sorrow that gripped the nation after the Civil War. Lincoln's final resting place is at Oak Ridge Cemetery, in Springfield, Illinois.

What became of Lincoln's family? Well, Tad ended up dying in 1871 at the age of eighteen, which basically left Mary completely insane with grief, having lost three sons and a husband. Her last remaining son, Robert had her committed to an insane asylum in 1875. Robert went on to become a lawyer and Secretary of War under Presidents Garfield and Arthur. The Lincoln lineage is sadly no longer around since Robert's grandson, "Bud" Beckwith died in 1985.

Lincoln's life was extraordinary in the sense that he had more weight on his shoulders than probably most men in history. One thing I remember in history classes growing up was seeing the poster with all of Lincoln's failures, and then the last one being him becoming president. The poster, of course was showing kids that you should never give up, no matter how many times you fail. This, of course is a very good lesson, and served Lincoln well during his life. He had many disappointments, but he worked hard and kept at it when others would of probably quit. Lincoln also had more tragedies in his life than most. He lost two sons in his lifetime, had an insane wife, and was trying to fight one of the bloodiest wars in history. There is a certain time when perseverance is directly attached to a person, and that undoubtedly is Lincoln.

Many will forget Lincoln's birthday, as it is often overshadowed by Washington's birthday, which is now called President's day. We sort of associate both presidents with the day, but on that day we choose to go out and save on mattresses and dinette sets then remember anything that Lincoln or Washington did for us. So, to celebrate, learn more about Lincoln. Read other articles. Read his speeches, especially the Gettysburg Address. Lincoln is far bigger than anything I could write about him.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Winchester Mystery House

After the death of William Winchester, the famous inventor of the Winchester rifle, his wife Sarah Winchester was inconsolable. Not only had she lost her husband, but also their daughter only a short time before. A close friend told Sarah that she should talk to a medium about her dead daughter and husband. The medium told Sarah that her family was cursed because of William's invention of the Winchester rifle. Her family had been cursed by all the people that had been killed by Winchester rifles and they wanted vengeance, so they had killed Sarah's baby and husband. The medium told her that the only thing she could do was to move out west and to start building a house. The catch was that she had to keep production of the house going at all times or she would die.
Sarah followed the medium's guidance and moved to San Jose, California and began construction on her house. She had inherited $20 million dollars after her husbands death and made $1000 a day from gun sales, so she had no problem hiring a bunch of people to build the house. This all started in 1884. Sarah required that production never halt, so workers were cycled in an out constantly. As would any house that had to be continually built, the Winchester House started to look a little funny. Staircases went to nowhere, doors opened to brick walls, hallways doubled back, and many doors led to the outside no matter which floor you were on. Sarah also had a thing about the number 13 and had it incorporated in many aspects of the house. Candelabras, window panes and stairs steps all came in thirteens.

While the house appears to be chaotic to a normal person, the house made sense to Sarah, as she had it made maze-like to confuse the evil spirits that haunted the house. Construction of the house went on for 38 years until Sarah died in her sleep. Construction abruptly stopped, with the house taking up about four and half acres of land. After 38 years, the house had cost $5.5 million dollars to build ($71 million in 2010 dollars). The confusing house was deemed worthless and ended up selling for $130,000 to a local investor. The house is now owned by Winchester Investments LLC and is deemed a Historical Landmark where tours can be taken of the supposedly haunted house.

The Donkey Bomb

"The night before the Confederate victory at Valverde, a sneak attack that might have given the Yankees a victory failed. Captain 'Patty' Graydon, commanding a company of Union volunteers, came up with a novel idea. He asked for two old mules and a few boxes of howitzer shells an then rigged them up with fuses, turning them into 'donkey bombs.' The two armies were encamped on opposite sides of the Rio Grande, and the idea was that Graydon and a few volunteers would swim the river, infiltrate the enemy camp, and set the bomb-carrying mules free near the rebel corral. The Union mules would mix in with the Confederate mules, and the shells would explode, inflicting casualties, and destroying the enemy's supplies. Graydon's request was approved."

"That night the raiders swam the river. They came within 150 yards of the enemy corral. They could smell the rebel mules. They lit the fuses on the howitzer shells, slapped the mules on the rump, and began their retreat. But they had forgotten one important detail: they hadn't briefed the mules on their part of the operation. Seeing their masters leaving, the mules turned and trotted towards them."

"Paddy and his men took off, running barefoot through cactus and catclaw bushes. Naturally, the mules also sped up. The men were running, the fuses were burning, and the mules were gaining (one of nature's laws is that a four-legged mule can run faster than a two-legged man) when KABOOM!, a dozen 24-pound shells exploded, scattering mule parts over a large chunk of New Mexico and scaring the hell out of the soldiers in both camps. Paddy and his footsore Commandos limped back to camp at daybreak."

Story from Uncle John's Slightly Irregular Bathroom Reader, "Historical Footnote: The Donkey Bomb", Pg. 317.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Groundhog Day

Groundhog day is one of those holidays that is easily forgotten if you don't live in certain parts of the U.S. or Canada. You don't get any presents, there's no fireworks, and you don't get candy. All you do is watch a groundhog come out and wait to see if it spots its shadow or not. Not that exciting, right? Some areas take the holiday very serious though. In Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania it is the biggest celebration of the year, attracting over 40,000 people to view whether "Punxsutawney Phil" will see his shadow or not, and whether they doomed to six more months of winter or not. Who came up with this kind of silly quasi holiday though? Nobody else but those Germans! God bless 'em! Well, at least German immigrants came up with the groundhog part. Before the German immigrants started the tradition we know now starting in the 18th and 19th century, it was the pagans who started stalking animals and recording their reactions to the weather. Many believe that it originated from the pagan festival Imbolc, which took place at the turning of the Celtic calender, February 1st. The practice also has similarities with the medieval Catholic holiday Candlemas. In both cases there is an animal that sees or does not see it's shadow, which signals that either spring is around the corner, or we have six more weeks of winter. The animal has changed over the years, sometimes being either a badger or even a sacred bear. The practice is all part of weather lore.
The earliest mention of the groundhog being used for Groundhog Day is in the mid-19th century in Pennsylvania being
associated with Candlemas Day, though many historians believe the tradition had been held by German immigrants in the beginning days of the U.S. It has since become a holiday recognized by all Americans and Canadians. It is reported by groundhog day proponents that the groundhog is right about 75%-90% of the time, though official studies have found that it's right only about 39% of the time. While it is most popular in Pennsylvania, it garners much attention in other states and cities around the continent. The closest festival dedicated to the day is in nearby Howell, MI, where people wait and see if "Woody" will see his shadow or not. According to local news, this year the groundhog did not see it's shadow and went out into the world, only to see a bunch of people gaping at it in wild anticipation. Early spring! Woohoo!

The holiday has garnered more attention since the popular movie Groundhog Day, in which Bill Murray has to repeat the same day over and over till he becomes a better person. The movie coincidentally takes place in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. Watch it if you haven't, it's a good one.