Tuesday, November 30, 2010
Sunday, October 31, 2010
For a thorough discussion of the battle at Monocacy, see the NPS website. I’ll give you the gist of it here. In the early summer of 1864, Confederate Lieutenant General Jubal Early and an army of approximately 15,000 crossed into Maryland near Sharpsburg. This would constitute the confederates third invasion of the North. When Early passed Harpers Ferry on July 4, 1864, personnel with the B&O railroad there alerted the Union army. Early’s mission was to draw Union forces arrayed against Robert E. Lee away from Petersburg, Virginia, by threatening the little defended Washington, D.C.
Union Major General Lew Wallace commanded the “Middle Department” that included Washington, Baltimore, Frederick, and Harpers Ferry, etc. Upon hearing of the threat posed to Washington or Baltimore by Jubal Early’s army, put together a force that would eventually number close to 6,000. Wallace rushed his force to Monocacy Junction on the B&O Railroad, just southeast of Frederick, Maryland. In this area the B&O Railroad, the Georgetown Pike (present day Hwy 355), and the National Road to Baltimore (present day Hwy 40) all crossed the Monocacy River. It was the most likely place to delay the rebels until reinforcements arrived.
On the morning of July 9, 1864, Confederate forces moved forward out of Frederick and began to engage Union forces. Although outnumbered three-to-one, the Federals under Lew Wallace successfully blocked Early’s confederates in the daylong battle. By nightfall, the Union had withdrawn from the field and sustained casualties of approximately 1,300 men dead, wounded or captured.
While considered a Confederate victory, as Early’s men continued to hold the field, the rebels were delayed for an entire day and sustained casualties of approximately 900 killed, wounded, or captured. The delay gave the Union time to reinforce Fort Stevens in the District of Columbia, which Early moved forward and attacked two days later. The Confederates fired on Fort Stevens, but Early knew that now that Union reinforcements had arrived, he did not have the resources to take the fort and threaten Washington further. Early withdrew the next day, July 12th, and headed back to Virginia.
Today, Monocacy National Battlefield has a modern visitor’s center/museum/gift shop and a 5-stop auto tour. It’s a relatively small affair, but it is certainly worth an afternoon of your time. At each auto stop there is a walking trail. Therefore, you can either just look around and read the waysides, or have a pleasant walk of a few hundred yards or up to a mile and a half. This ground on which the Civil War was fought also has a history that dates from colonial times. For example, the walking path at the Thomas Farm, auto stop number four, goes by the site of the Middle Ferry over the Monocacy River. This ferry site dates from before the French and Indian War. The Best Farm, stop number one on the auto tour, was formerly l’ Hermitage, a plantation established in 1794 that at one point kept up to 90 enslaved African Americans. The NPS has done an archeological dig on the site and information can be found on the website.
Tuesday, October 5, 2010
For an excellent history of the area and a step-by-step guide to what you'll see along the towpath trail, check out The C&O Canal Companion by Mike High.
George Washington’s life-long dream was to open up the length of the Potomac River to navigation. The aim at first was to link his home in Mount Vernon with his land holdings in the Ohio country. However, the Revolution was his first distraction. After the war, Washington participated in the Patomack Company, whose goals were to build skirting canals around the several falls on the river. His next distraction was the call to serve as first President of the United States from 1789 to 1797. During his presidency, Washington added to the development of the Potomac River corridor by ordering the construction of both a Federal Armory at Harpers Ferry and the new capital city near Georgetown that would bear his name.
Washington died in 1799, but the work of the Patomack Company continued with additional funding from both Maryland and Virginia. The several skirting canals at Little Falls, Great Falls, and the Harpers Ferry area were completed by 1802. However, due to floods and high water part of the year, versus drought and low water in other parts of the year, the Potomac was only navigable for a few months out of the year. Additionally, Harpers Ferry was a long way from the Ohio.
The opening of the Erie Canal in New York State in 1825 was a modern marvel. Business in the lower Potomac Valley needed a better means of transportation to the Ohio. In order to make Georgetown a port city to rival New York, Maryland and Virginia needed a canal of their own. Unable to secure government funding, a private company, the Chesapeake and Ohio canal company was formed to take on the project. A groundbreaking ceremony was held on July 4, 1828 to begin digging a canal the whole length of the Potomac from Georgetown. As it happened, on the same day in Baltimore a groundbreaking ceremony was held for the construction of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, also headed for the Ohio.
Overcoming legal issues, funding problems, and construction challenges, the C&O canal made it to Cumberland, Maryland (at the “top” of the Appalachians) and formally opened on October 10, 1850. To create this manufactured river, the canal consisted of a complex system of feeder dams, lift locks, and aqueducts. The canal covers 184.5 miles from Georgetown to Cumberland and an elevation difference of 605 feet. It took canal boats, pulled by mules walking the adjacent towpath, a week to travel the canal one way. The canal was already outdated technology when it opened, as the B&O Railroad had beaten them through the Appalachians by close to a decade.
Although the canal was never an extremely profitable endeavor, it operated commercially for nearly 75 years. The C&O canal survived the Civil War, economic downturns, and a number of floods over the years. By the flood of 1924, it was determined that it was not cost effective to repair the canal further. The federal government purchased the canal, then owned by the B&O Railroad, in 1938. It was the depression years, and the Civilian Conservation Corps was put to work on repairing the structures along the canal. Nevertheless, after the end of the depression and World War II, the government wasn’t sure what to do with the canal.
By the 1950s, there were a number of ideas of what kind of development should take place along the north side of the Potomac. One of the most popular ideas was to create a motor parkway along the route of the towpath so people could see the beauty of the river all the way to Cumberland. Lucky for us today, in 1954 the canal had a champion in the form of Associate Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas. Largely due to his efforts, we get to walk or bike the towpath today in peace and quiet, rather than share it with cars.
Justice Douglas was an avid outdoorsman who worked to save the environment and the natural state of rivers. When in Washington, D.C., he would hike along the canal, stating that he “was grateful that an accident of history created a continuous strip of park land along one of America’s most beautiful rivers.” In March of 1954, Justice Douglas led a group of conservationists and reporters on a hike of the entire 184.5 miles of towpath from Cumberland to Georgetown.
Although Justice Douglas’ walk didn’t resolve the issue of what to make out of the canal immediately, the event did publicize the effort to preserve the canal. On January 8, 1971, President Richard Nixon signed the law that designated the C&O Canal a National Historical Park (NHP). Today, the National Park Service maintains the towpath trail and restores the structures along the canal. They not only maintain the physical structure of the park, but also interpret the history of the canal through five visitor centers for an estimated 3.8 million visitors a year.
Visitor Centers are located at Georgetown, Great Falls, Brunswick, Williamsport, Hancock, and Cumberland, Maryland. There are also numerous access points along the canal that range from a small gravel parking area to a larger paved parking lot with restroom facilities. Costumed interpreters and canal boat rides are available during the summer months at the Georgetown and Great Falls Visitors Centers. Anywhere on the length of the canal are excellent opportunities for walking, running, or bicycling. The towpath is packed gravel with a marker at each mile.
We now live about three miles from the Williamsport Visitors Center, which is at about mile 99.7, considered roughly the midpoint of the canal. We enjoy this park so much that a conservative estimate would be that we’ve been on the towpath, either walking Sydney (our cattle dog) or riding bicycles, four days a week for the last two months. The family has been to the visitors centers at Cumberland (mile 184.5), Hancock (124), and Brunswick (54). I’ve ridden my mountain bike from Hancock to Harpers Ferry (mile 60). Some of those sections I’ve been on several times. And the best news of all is that I’ve lost over 20 pounds in the last two months.
Besides the exercise and the solitude, I enjoy the history that you find all along the canal towpath. Along with the structures of old mills and lock houses, I like to scout the crossing points along the river used during the Civil War. My goal is to walk or ride my bike over every mile of the canal. I’ve met several people on my bike rides that share the same goal. I have not yet visited Georgetown or Great Falls, but I understand it can get crowed there in the summer months. I like the less populated areas of the canal. A mile or so from an access point and you are in a world all of your own: just you, the river, the forest, and the history.
For more information on the C&O Canal NHP and its history, visit the park’s website at http://www.nps.gov/choh/. The Western Maryland Historical Library Project has digitized historical maps and photos online at http://www.whilbr.org/candocanal/index.aspx. Or check out the book The C&O Canal Companion by Mike High (John Hopkins University Press, 2001) for mile by mile descriptions and an excellent history of the Potomac River valley.
Tuesday, September 21, 2010
The AHEC is open M-F from 9:00 am to 4:45 pm for research or to view indoor museum displays. Weekend hours are available from April to October. The great thing about the Heritage Trail is that it is open every day from sunup to sundown. On summer weekends there is usually a reenactor event. Check out their website for details and directions.
Next post: Bicycling on the C & O Canal!
Wednesday, August 4, 2010
My friend Paul over at History Delivered put up an interesting post. He made us aware of an article on the Smithsonian website about how an American was the force behind a memorial in London that honors Benedict Arnold. Paul asks us how we feel about honoring a man whose name is synonymous with traitor. Can a person do something so bad that it trumps the good? In this case we’re talking about Arnold offering up the plans to West Point to the British versus his leading Continental troops to victory at Quebec and Saratoga. I won’t repeat Paul’s argument…I hope you’ll visit his blog and read it for yourself. Nevertheless, I’ll add to the questions he poses and ask if a historical figure can be remembered as so great and good that we fail to study and learn from their faults and foibles as well?
Several weeks ago, I received an email from Jeff Mummert at the Civil War Augmented Reality Project. Jeff asked me to review their project on this blog and I am honored to do so. I have never met Jeff or anyone else connected with the project but I’ll admit that I’m intrigued by what they are working on. Of course I share their passion for history, and as some of you will recall, my “day job” for the last 14 years has been running a computer consulting and website development business (http://www.ridinthewave.com/).
They have a Kickstarter site to help with the funding for their project. I highly recommend that you visit the site to find out what this project is all about. In essence, they are developing software to run on tablet PCs that will help students learn about historical sites, while standing on the ground. For example at Gettysburg, the student will look out at the terrain in front of them, then on the tablet PC they will see the same view with unit dispositions superimposed on that sight picture. This video (also on the Kickstarter site) can better explain what they’re doing:
I think this technology is fascinating. It also has some amazing potential for learning. However, and don’t take my opinion as a criticism of the work that the Civil War Augmented Reality Project is doing, I don’t agree that this technology is best serving the public, as it is meant to be used “on site.” After all, the target user of this technology is already there, on the site. While the student or visitor has their attention drawn to the technology in their hands, will they be more likely to miss the thrill of being on the site? What about the teacher, docent, park ranger, or guide who has developed their knowledge and honed their presentation to bring the history alive? Don’t we owe them an attentive audience?
I’m a big fan of technology. However, we often ask, “Can we?” and forget to ask, “Should we?” or even, “Do we need to?” After 14 years in the business, I have seen this many times. Sheila and I often talk about the availability of our historic sites and archives. We are so pleased to see that historic sites like Gettysburg and large museums like the Smithsonian are free. Anyone can go to NARA and look at the nations documents…for free! The sarcastic punch line is always the same… “You just gotta get here.” I think we should be using our technology to assist the students who do not have the means to travel to the sites, to the museums, and to the archives. In a perfect world, a person with few resources could go to their public library, sit down at a computer, and via the Internet obtain an image of any document, or virtually walk through any museum or visit any historic site. But there’s no taking away from it Jeff, what you guys are working on is COOL. ;-)
Wednesday, June 30, 2010
As I’ve mentioned before in this blog, my friend John works as a park ranger at Gettysburg National Military Park and rents a house on the battlefield from the NPS. Of course I wanted to visit my friend that I hadn’t seen in three years, but I was also looking forward to another visit to one of my favorite Civil War battlefields and getting a personal tour from the most knowledgeable person I know about the battle and the war.
I had visited Gettysburg on several occasions over the years since my first visit back in 1988. However, this was the first time I had toured the Battlefield and the town with a guide. Even for those of you who are familiar with the battle (as I thought I was), I highly recommend touring the battlefield with a licensed guide or attending one of the presentations given by the NPS staff. John was able to show me, on the ground, parts of the battle that have gotten little attention from both historians and popular culture. I won’t go into the history of the battle, but leave you with the guidance that there is much more to the battle than what is portrayed in the movie Gettysburg. The more you learn about it the more you want to know.
I invoke the Hollywood version of the battle (one of my favorites mind you), because during our tour John pointed out several items that the movie got wrong. He also gave me the background on a few of the monuments that over the decades since the battle have been placed for politics and tourism as well as honoring the sacrifices of our soldiers. Actually, the history of the battlefield as “hallowed ground” versus “tourist attraction” is as fascinating for me as the battle itself. For example, the term “high-water mark of the Confederacy” applied to Gettysburg, and specifically Pickett’s Charge, was coined by a tourism promoter years after the battle. If we are speaking in terms of Confederate military strength, one could argue that there are other points during the war when things looked much worse for the Union. In terms of geography, organized Confederate forces fought in the same campaign about 35 miles north of Gettysburg near Camp Hill, Pennsylvania, in what is known as the Skirmish of Sporting Hill.
Since I had visited the area before, it is interesting to see what is changing and what stays the same. The park is conducting projects to restore the terrain to what it looked like during the battle. Read about it in the park newspaper. There have been some trees removed around the Devil’s Den since my last visit. There are now some new peach trees in the Peach Orchard. The NPS has acquired a new “witness” house on the Emmitsburg Road, and the new Visitor Center opened in 2008 (which is fantastic!). Some things never change: the debate is raging in town about a proposed casino and hotel on US 15. That was voted down the last time I was there back in 2006. The casino promoters are back for another attempt at a permit.
Therefore, this trip to Gettysburg brought up several of those internal debates I have with myself. The primary being: At what level should we teach, or expect the public to know, history? Moreover, is a little drama such a bad thing if we can engage the public to tune in to the lessons of history? How far should we go to protect our historic sites? Does a place like Gettysburg deserve protection from what is built nearby? The analysis of these questions, whether I discuss and debate them with others or just in my head, is what excites me about public history.
I’ll close by saying, "Thanks again, John!" for the fantastic tour and a great steak dinner.
Tuesday, June 1, 2010
The AHEC is several things in addition to a repository for primary source documents pertaining to military history. Originally, (and still its primary function) the AHEC was created to support the Army’s War College at Carlisle Barracks. In 2002, they moved to their current campus, off base, so you don’t have to have your vehicle and ID checked to park there. If you visit, plan an extra afternoon to visit the museum and the Army Heritage Trail. The trail is a walking path of about a mile that has interactive exhibits that are recreations from army history. For example, you can go into Redoubt #10 from the battle of Yorktown, get into a WWI trench, or walk through a WWII era tarpaper billet.
The fact that the AHEC is a library as well as an archive makes it a “first stop” for researching military history. Before you visit in person, look at several of the AHEC’s online resources, like their list of finding aids and the online catalog. Finding aids have been created for many unit histories and military history subjects. These documents are available online. With these finding aids and the online catalog, you will know what secondary works are available as well as primary source documents. Looking for secondary sources through interlibrary loan with your local public library will save you days of research time at the AHEC. Knowing the primary source material available will help you determine if you need to visit in person, and if so, estimate how many days you will need in the library.
When you enter the main building of the AHEC, you will have to sign in with security before going in the research library. Lockers are provided to store your coat and any carry cases. You can only bring laptops, cameras, writing paper, and pencils into the research room. A research assistant is available to help you fill out your “pull request” from the library. Don’t try to go it alone, use their expertise. The staff is extremely knowledgeable, very friendly, and eager to help you with your project.
While all libraries and archives have similar procedures, they also differ from place to place. Unlike NARA, at the AHEC you cannot bring in a flatbed scanner. I use a small digital camera to take pictures of documents (reproduction costs would kill you) that are too lengthy to take notes on. I used the same camera at AHEC to reproduce photographs. A photo station is set up in the research room for this purpose. You mount your camera on a photo stand and adjust two studio lights beside the table on tripods. I at first had my doubts, but this system worked beautifully. For textual items, I just set my camera to a “copy” preset and use it handheld. I reproduced 13 photographs and over 200 pages of documents in one long day at the AHEC.
I am a huge fan of digitizing primary documents so we don’t have to travel to an archive to look up this information. However, I know we will never be able to put every document and picture held in repositories online. There is just too much. You have to travel to where it is stored. Also, there is just no beating the thrill of holding the document in your hand, or to read the contents in its entirety for yourself, unedited and not interpreted for you by someone else. Again, I urge anyone who is interested in any subject to visit the appropriate archive and look up the information. I do not consider myself to be a scholar, an academic, or an intellectual. No one asked me what my qualifications or reasons were before allowing me access to any materials at either the AHEC or NARA. It is our history. Go get it.
Picture credits from the top:
- Screen capture of AHEC website, 6/1/2010.
- WWII in-service airborne recruiting poster, AHEC.
- Text document from William B. Breuer Collection, AHEC.
Tuesday, May 18, 2010
Picture descriptions, from the top:
The Still Pictures research room at Archives II. Image from Microsoft Case Study.
The Textual Records research room at Archives II. Image from Microsoft Case Study.
LTC William P. Yarborough, Commanding Officer of the 509th Parachute Infantry Battalion (left) and LTC Roy A. Murray, Commanding Officer of the 4th Ranger Battalion, aboard the Winchester Castle, study model of the beach where troops aboard the ship will make their assault on Anzio, Jan 1944. NARA image SC 186957.
Infantrymen of the 509th Parachute Infantry moving out with a tank from the 7th Armored Division near St Vith, Belgium, January 24, 1945. NARA image SC 279944.
Tuesday, May 4, 2010
May is upon us once again. The last day of the month will bring us Memorial Day Weekend. For most Americans that means the official start to summer. Here on the Lake Michigan shore it also means the informal beginning to the tourist and resort season. (Our town’s population more than doubles during the summer with the return of all the snowbirds.) That being said, how could I not take the opportunity to talk about the real meaning of Memorial Day?
The tradition of a day of remembrance for fallen soldiers began as early as the end of the Civil War. Various communities around the nation held their own day to honor their dead. The first attempt at a nationwide observance was the proclamation of “Decoration Day” by General John Logan, the commander-in-chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, the national organization of Union Army veterans. General Logan proclaimed that May 30th of 1868, and each year thereafter, be set aside to decorate the graves of fallen Union soldiers. Most communities in the South did not participate, mainly due to a lack of Union graves, not to mention a lingering resentment toward the North.
The name “Memorial Day” did not come into use until after 1882. The sentiment of the holiday became accepted nationally after World War I when the country came together to honor all of our war dead. Now the day is officially Memorial Day by a Federal law passed in 1967. It is celebrated on the last Monday in May as per the National Holiday Act of 1971, passed to ensure that we get a three-day weekend for Federal holidays. Although Texas, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina, Louisiana, and Tennessee still have alternate days set aside to honor their Confederate war dead.
Many Americans seem to forget the meaning of the day. Some believe that this was fostered by the creation of the guaranteed three-day weekend in 1971. Some, like the Veterans of Foreign Wars, believe that returning the date for Memorial Day to May 30th would help to re-educate Americans and encourage a more traditional day of remembrance and honoring of our fallen warriors. Over ten years ago, separate bills to do just that were introduced into the House and Senate. Unfortunately, neither bill made it out of committee (the place that most bills go to die). However, in 2000 a resolution was passed into public law to encourage a National Moment of Remembrance, “which invites everyone to pause where they are at 3:00 p.m. on Memorial Day in a uplifting act of national unity.”I do not glorify the sacrifices that were made in wars past and present. In fact, I view them as a tragedy. Nevertheless, wars do happen and someone has to go and fight them. As a historian and a veteran who was raised in a family of veterans, I am saddened to see the growing numbers of naïve and idealistic, not to mention the legions of the ignorant and apathetic. Memorial Day is a learning opportunity and an excellent day to take a reality check. I don’t want to be a buzz kill or party pooper and take away from the tradition of the barbeque, or the tailgate, or the camping trip you have planned for this Memorial Day weekend. By all means, enjoy. However, I do encourage you to take a moment to remember the sacrifices of others and pass on that reverence to your children…so that they can pass it on to theirs.
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
The Locks were formally opened on July 4, 1917 with a grand celebration. The "official" first ship through what was then known simply as the Government Locks, was the steamship Roosevelt. However, the FOBL was recently contacted by the daughter of Elmer Reed who always maintained that HE piloted the first vessel through the Locks on that opening day. Elmer was a local outdoor enthusiast with a passion for canoeing. When the gates of the locks were opened to allow boats into the canal leading to Lake Union, Elmer allegedly jumped in front of the Roosevelt...in his canoe!
Tuesday, April 13, 2010
Thursday, April 1, 2010
I have a particular interest in the Korean War, as my father was a combat veteran of that conflict, besides my being a military historian. Korea came up on my radar last week due to an article in the NY Times that tells us that North Korea is threatening reprisals if South Korea and the United States do not stop civilian tours to view the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). As we approach the 60th anniversary of the beginning of the Korean War (June 25, 1950) it is appropriate that we take the time to remember the sacrifices of the veterans who have served in that “forgotten war.” Remember that not only do we still have troops stationed in South Korea, but also that the Korean War technically is still going on. Hostilities ceased with the signing of an armistice on July 27, 1953, but the war was never officially ended.
With that motivation, I searched the NY Times for other recent articles about Korea and came across the obituary for Modesto Cartagena, who as a staff sergeant serving with the 65th Infantry during the Korean War was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and is the most decorated Puerto Rican soldier in history. Mr. Cartagena passed away at his home in Puerto Rico on March 2, 2010 at the age of 87. His obituary in the Times explained that the 65th Infantry was an all-volunteer unit from Puerto Rico. Since I had never heard of this unit of Puerto Ricans, I had to satisfy my curiosity.
A simple Google search provided me with the story. Here is a link to the Borinqueneers’ website that contains photographs and archival video. In addition, here is a link to an excellent Wikipedia article summarizing the history of the unit. It would seem that the 65th Infantry Regiment experienced similar prejudices as other ethnic units in the history of the United States Army. Moreover, like the 442nd Regimental Combat Team (Japanese-American), the 92nd Infantry Division (African-American), and others, this unit distinguished itself beyond all expectations.
The unit’s nickname, “Borinqueneers,” is a combination of the words Borinquen, which is what the Puerto Rican natives called their island before the arrival of the Spanish, and Buccaneers. The soldiers coined this name during an exhausting month long boat trip from Puerto Rico to Pusan, Korea in September 1950.
The unit met its greatest challenges in Korea. Many new officers transferred into the unit by the army where white continentals who could not speak Spanish, the native language of the common soldier in the unit. After more than two years of distinguished service in combat, an action occurred in which one of the regiment’s line companies was pushed off a hill by Chinese forces. A new Regimental Commander, a continental, accused the unit of cowardice. The commander ordered the unit to stop calling themselves Borinqueneers, took away their special ration of beans and rice, ordered the men to shave off their distinctive mustaches, and even had one soldier wear a sign that said, “I am a coward.” Due to the humiliation, combat exhaustion, and cultural barriers, it is understandable that the unit rebelled and refused to continue fighting. Ninety-one of the unit members were found guilty at court martial and sentenced to prison. Later, the sentences were remitted through intervention by the Puerto Rican government. Though the men who were court martialed were pardoned, there currently is a campaign for a formal exoneration.
This “mass court martial” does not take away from the fact that members of the unit were awarded 10 Distinguished Service Crosses, 256 Silver Stars, and 606 Bronze Stars during their time in Korea. The 65th Infantry Regiment earned streamers for nine campaigns during the Korean War. Approximately 61,000 Puerto Ricans served during the Korean War, most of them were volunteers.
Thursday, March 25, 2010
The publisher placed a statement in the product description of the books offering on Amazon. However, Amazon is still selling their stock of the suspect book. For a while there was a rousing debate going on in the customer reviews of the product where the author joined in to defend himself and the book that he says is factual with the exception of a small part where he was “duped.”
Back to the NY Times article. It’s a good read for us budding authors, as well as fans of nonfiction. It reminds the reader of several recent and notorious cases of fabricated nonfiction works. I’m still at a loss as to why one would need to make up a story when real life and history is so full of action and excitement in its truth. As I’ve mentioned before in this blog, my first book project (research coming along quite well, thank you) concerns the 509th Parachute Infantry Battalion in WWII. Their story is so much better than fiction that I can’t wait to tell their story.
One glimmer of hope for us history fanatics: The Pacific by Hugh Ambrose is #5 on the current NY Times Best Seller list for hardback nonfiction. I’m glad to see the interest in military history, even if it is the result of a television miniseries. It put a good history book on the list that is clearly dominated by books about fad diets and “tell all” gossips. I’m reading Mr. Ambrose’s book now and will review it for you later. Spoiler alert! I’d go ahead and buy it. ;-)
Monday, March 1, 2010
The book is out there on the shelf at your local bookstore. It is number sixteen on the list of bestselling military history on Amazon. If it is not recalled, it becomes part of the historical record. Historians almost always base their works on the secondary sources created previously. It is quite possible that twenty years from now, a writer might find this book and cite something from it, and perpetuate the fabrications it contains. The fact that the book does not cite any sources and the author admits that it contains fabrications, makes suspect the remainder of its contents. I will not purchase or read this book.
At first our righteous indignation might be directed at the veteran who fabricated his story, and rightfully so. However, I have personal experience in taking oral histories and I know that memories fade and sometimes get filled in with what is learned after the event. We each have our own truth as to what we experienced and what happened and when and who was there. Moreover, some want to have “been there” so bad that they will make up their own truth, whether consciously or subconsciously. You know they are out there. If you do not, or don’t think there are that many, read the book “Stolen Valor” by B. G. Burkett and Glenna Whitely.
As a historian, my ire is directed at the author, Charles Pelligrino, and his publisher. This entire episode could have been avoided with some simple fact checking and review of primary sources. When the author was interviewing Mr. Fuoco, how hard would it have been to look at his discharge or other documents like award certificates? Did the author not make a trip to the National Archives or other repositories to view the official records like flight plans and passenger lists? We do not know because there is no list of sources in Mr. Pelligrino’s book. Moreover, the most distasteful part is that Pelligrino has been published previously (albeit this is his first history book) and had a movie made based on one of his earlier books. Not only should an author of his experience know better, but he also has the financial wherewithal to easily conduct primary source research and fact checking.
I don’t want to tell you how to think or who to blame. Make up your own mind. I’m just going to give you my opinion, my philosophy if you will. I believe that the job of the nonfiction writer, whether an academic or a popular historian, is to honor those who came before us by telling their story so it is not lost to history. The recollections and eyewitness accounts of individuals are an integral part of telling that story. However, the absolute primary function of the interviewer is to check the validity of a claim before publishing it as fact.
As far as we veterans are concerned, I know this in my heart to be true. I think that however you got there; circumstances make the hero. You might have joined or you might have been drafted. You might have volunteered for Special Forces, or prayed for the Finance Corps. Nevertheless, fate, kismet, or karma put you in the line of fire or it didn’t. You either witnessed history, or wish you had, and it wasn’t totally up to you, no matter how hard you tried either way. That being said, anyone who steps forward and signs up, no matter what their role, should be thanked for their service and their courage should never be in question. Not by anyone else, and certainly not by themselves.
Monday, February 22, 2010
It is just as hard getting a job with the NPS as it is teaching. During the summer we employ about maybe six graduate students as seasonal rangers and another four as interns. Many of them would love to work for the NPS once they graduate from school but for every position, (when they become available) there is usually over one hundred applicants. Some are only open to permanent, (as opposed to seasonal) NPS employees. For all positions, the Park Service considers KSAs (knowledge, skills, abilities), education, experience, and assigns a certain point value. I don't know how this works exactly but there is a system. Veterans and applicants with disabilities get an additional 5-10 points. That means that usually a recent college graduate with a bachelor’s degree, or even a master’s degree, usually isn't going to make the cut.
All hope isn't lost though. There are a couple of other ways to get in. One way is through the STEP program, where a student can work full time for the Park Service while they are going to school. While you may work the entire year through STEP, you still aren't considered a permanent, full time employee. There are no benefits except a paycheck and once school is finished you are still out of a job, but I have known a few people who have managed to stretch their time in STEP over several years and in one case, it did lead to a permanent position.
Another way to get in is through what are known as "gateway parks.” These are parks that see a lot of turnover. They are usually very popular with visitors, but are somewhat stressful and exhausting to work at. Examples of "gateway parks" are the Mall in Washington D.C., Independence Hall in Philadelphia, and Boston National Historic Park. Because they have high turnover it is a little bit easier to get a job at these parks. [Then hope to transfer to another park at a later date] However, it may be years before a position at the park that the applicant really wants to work at opens up.
While these are permanent, full time jobs with benefits, it doesn't necessarily mean you will be working the entire year. Some of these jobs are subject to furlough, which means you may only work six or nine months out of the year. Also, these are entry level GS-4/5 jobs which means you aren't making a lot of money. Unless you have a [working] spouse or some other additional income, you might not be able to get by on just an NPS paycheck. If I didn't have an Army retirement paycheck I probably couldn't do this. Considering my experience and education, I'm making a lot less than most people my age with similar backgrounds, but this is one of the best jobs in the world.
Thanks for the input, John!
Thursday, February 11, 2010
Dr. Sarantakes is a military, diplomatic, and political historian who is the author of several books and multiple published articles. He has his Ph.D. from the University of Southern California and is currently an associate professor at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College. What is unique about his blog is that he has “guest bloggers” post articles concerning a career in academic history and the state of the profession. In the earlier postings on his blog, Dr. Sarantakes has discussed some alternate employment options for Ph.D.s in history. In the last couple of months, the subject is the budget strategy taken by universities to hire cheaper adjunct professors over more costly tenured positions and what effect that has on the job market in that field.
The bottom line is that there are too many Ph.D.s for the number of university teaching jobs available. That drives down salary and benefits, as it would in any profession. I hate to sound like my dad here, but a couple of old adages used to fly around my house, as I am sure they did in most of yours. The first piece of advice is to “do what you love and the money will follow.” The other thing dad used to say was “Whatever you do, be the best at it and you’ll always have a job.”
The best example I know of these wisdoms in action is my friend John. We met in the masters program at Shippensburg. We have a lot in common and I have a great admiration and respect for him. John retired from the army and is better read on the Civil War than anyone I know. The job market for MAs in history is as tight and pay is as low as it is for Ph.D.s. Nevertheless, John started the program knowing what he wanted to do when he finished. He wanted to work for the National Park Service and be a ranger at one of the Civil War Battlefields. While still pursuing his masters, John interned with the NPS. He networked and he studied the job market. Today, John is leading tours at Gettysburg Battlefield. I wonder if he knows how really amazing that is. Do what you love and the money will follow. Be the best at what you do and you will always have a job. Livin’ the dream. Way to go, John!
Monday, February 1, 2010
Does making t-shirt graphics have anything to do with history? You bet it does. We thought it might be appropriate to share with our friends and fellow veterans what the process is for making our designs and in what order.
Let us say again that it is our goal to provide every veteran with the shirt or coffee mug that they want to honor their service to our country. That’s a pretty big goal considering the time limitations that we have. Military Vet Shop is our favorite pursuit. Unfortunately, it is not our only one. Sheila and Jim have a “day job” running Wave of the Future, our website development business. Moreover, Jim recently completed his MA in applied history and is researching a book length project: a history of the 509th Parachute Infantry Battalion. You’ll be able to read more about it on his blog, The Roving Historian, in the near future.
So how do we choose what to create, given the limited time available? Remember the old Burger King™ commercial with the song “hold the pickles, hold the lettuce...special orders don’t upset us...” You’re singing it right now, aren’t you? Well, that’s us. We love special requests. A request was behind the new badges section and the branches section. A request was made for the 30th Medical Command patch. A request was made for the CH-46, CH-47, and the M551 Sheridan. We figure that if you want it, there must be others out there that want it. Hopefully, you know some folks who want it and will tell them about it. For that reason, requests automatically go to the top of the “to-do” list.
Now here is where the history comes in. After the request list, we are then prioritizing a list of every major unit patch that was in Vietnam. For each patch that we choose to create a set of graphics for, while Sheila (the graphics artist) is making the patch object, Jim is researching the history of the patch. We have to determine if the patch was in Vietnam, or Iraq, or Afghanistan. Then we need to determine what vehicles the veterans who wore that patch used. It is in this task that veteran’s websites and the pictures posted on the web are invaluable. If enough information is available, we’ll even produce a summary history of the unit patch on our website.
Making patches is a relatively quick task, but making an original, photo-realistic, graphic image of a vehicle or aircraft is a time intensive project. Sheila puts hours of work into these projects. That’s why it takes a few weeks for requests of vehicle graphics to be fulfilled. Moreover, the operative word here is original. We completely respect the work of others and are careful not to violate the copyrights of any artist. We will not cut corners by copying from others. That is also why you won’t find the image you buy from us on any other site. (If you do, please let us know for obvious reasons!)
As you can see, you the veteran, our customers, are a crucial player in obtaining our goal of getting every veteran the design they want. We welcome your input!
Thursday, January 28, 2010
Instead of pursuing my passion for museums and battlefields, for the time being I’m spending the season reading up on my WWII history and doing a little writing. One of the areas I’ve neglected over the months that I was working on the masters degree and the Locks project was writing unit histories for Military Vet Shop. Rectifying that, I’ve just posted a summary history of the 7th Infantry Division.
I enjoy writing these articles, but unfortunately, since I don’t live near an archive, I’m limited to the sources I find on the Internet. One of the sources I like to use the most is what veterans have posted on their sites, both as individuals and organization' sites. In lieu of finding any new or detailed information, I have to go with what I can find. Sometimes I get it wrong. Because, quite frankly, what has been posted is wrong. I really appreciate it when a veteran contacts me to set the record straight. I invite any comments, critiques, and clarifications. Just shoot me an email.