Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Looking for 509th PIB Vets from WWII

The folks who regularly read this blog know that I’ve been working on a book project for some time now. The subject is the combat history of the 509th Parachute Infantry Battalion during WWII. Along with secondary sources, I’ve completed my search for primary source documents at the Army Heritage and Education Center in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and the National Archives in College Park, Maryland. I’ve started writing a first draft and I am enjoying the process immensely.

For those who are not familiar with the 509th Parachute Infantry Battalion, they were one of the first battalions of parachutists fielded by the American Army. The 509th, the “Geronimos,” were one of only four independent airborne battalions in U.S. military history. The unit has an amazing list of “firsts.” For example, they were the first airborne unit deployed to England, before the 82nd or 101st Airborne Divisions had been formed. They were also the first airborne unit to make a combat jump (North Africa). The unit jumped behind the lines during our landings at Salerno, Italy, and fought at Anzio. They parachuted into Southern France during Operation Dragoon. The unit also fought in the Battle of the Bulge. Shortly after that, the Army chose to disband the independent airborne battalions and the survivors were used as replacements for other units. The accomplishments of this unit have long been overlooked and underrepresented, hidden in the shadow of the larger airborne regiments and divisions.

I am now looking for the oral histories of the members of this unit that took part in the campaigns of World War II. I have seen the letters written to author William Breuer that are stored in the AHEC and read a few oral histories obtained from other sources. However, I am hoping to obtain the recollections of veterans who have yet to share their stories.

Barry Simpson, the secretary of the 509th Parachute Infantry Association, recently contacted me. He actually heard of the project through this blog. Barry has offered to help me get in touch with the members of that organization who are veterans of WWII. I am most grateful for his offer of assistance. I would also ask any readers that are not affiliated with the 509th organization for their assistance in locating former members of the 509th PIB. If you know a veteran of this unit, please direct them to this blog or if they are not online, please assist them in contacting me.

I’ve created a short survey with several questions to answer. My contact information is on this form. Click this link to download the survey in a PDF format. This is just a starting point, as I am hoping to give the veterans the opportunity to share their stories with us, rather than answer pointed questions. My intent is to donate the responses I receive to the AHEC when this project is complete.

Let me express my gratitude in advance to anyone who can help with this endeavor. Moreover, let me particularly thank the veterans of this great unit for their service to our country.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Visiting Monocacy National Battlefield

The season for tramping around battlefields is quickly drawing to a close. A couple of weeks ago Sheila, Meaghan, and I went to Monocacy National Battlefield near Frederick, Maryland. If you have never heard of the battle or visited Monocacy, don’t feel too bad. It is not one of the better known Civil War battles or National Parks. I would definitely recommend spending an afternoon at Monocacy, but not as your only experience in studying Civil War sites. Your one-stop, of course, is Gettysburg. However, I would highly recommend Antietam as well. (Which I just realized I’ve never talked about and it’s only 20 minutes away from my house. I promise I will rectify that soon.) Nevertheless, there are other reasons to visit Monocacy.

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.

And speaking of the website, make sure you visit the NPS’ Monocacy National Battlefield website before you go, or especially if you can’t visit the park in person. This is an excellent site for their historical articles and multimedia downloads. On the website, you can download MP3 files for an audio tour while you are driving the auto tour. The NPS has even created some virtual tour videos of different points on the battlefield. The website is worth a look. Monocacy is worth a visit.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Riding on the C&O Canal

Since moving to Maryland two months ago, I have discovered the secret to weight loss and mental relaxation. Better than a pill and it’s free! That’s right, I’ve been riding my bicycle on the towpath of the C&O Canal National Historical Park. What’s really sad (on my part) is that I had not heard of this opportunity before I started looking into moving to Maryland. It seems that the C&O Canal is a secret kept from the rest of the country outside of the Potomac River Valley.

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

Go visit the Army Heritage Trail!

You haven’t heard from me since we’ve moved to Maryland, but I swear I haven’t been on summer vacation. Along with my day job at Wave of the Future, I have posted a new unit history over at Military Vet Shop, researched a couple more, and started volunteering at Harpers Ferry NHP. In addition, we’ve been making a lot of day trips, hikes, and bike rides to historic sites. For the last six weeks, we have been visiting old haunts and finding some new ones. I am overdue in telling you about them and I thought I start with one of my favorites (if you can even pin me down to a favorite), the Army Heritage Trail up at the Army Heritage and Education Center (AHEC) in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.

Back in June, I told you about doing research at the AHEC. I was back there again in August looking up some information for a history of the 11th Light Infantry Brigade (yet to be written, sorry). My daughter Meaghan was with me, so I thought it might be fun to walk around the Army Heritage Trail before we left. The Army Heritage Trail is a walking path through a series of outdoor exhibits that you can walk through, touch, climb on, and otherwise immerse yourself in military history of different periods. I had not walked out there since 2006 when the AHEC had opened a replica of “Redoubt #10” from the Battle of Yorktown. They have since added an interpretation of a Vietnam Firebase and a World War I trench system. The Heritage Trail also has displays of a WWII barracks compound, a Civil War artillery display, and a blockhouse from the colonial era as well as many others.

It was the WWI trenches that we probably enjoyed the most. Meaghan is 26 now, and not at all a history geek like me. Nevertheless, she says that being able to walk through something like this brings history to life. You should have seen her running around taking pictures. We’ve only included a few images here. You absolutely have to experience this exhibit (and the whole trail) for yourself. The signage is excellent. The trench “system” includes a mortar pit, an aid station, troop sleeping area, and officer’s command post. If you peer over the top of the trench, you can see the German concrete bunker across “no man’s land.” Then leave the American trench, and walk through an underground tunnel to observe the Americans through the window in the German bunker.

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.

We honor our vets by not forgetting them. One way to do that is by learning what they went through and what their experiences were. If you’ve got friends and family that you want to hang out with, but aren’t really into history, try out the Army Heritage Trail. It is kids-of-all-ages friendly and I guarantee that fun learning will take place. You never know, with hands-on history they just might be engaged in a way you’ve never seen before.

Next post: Bicycling on the C & O Canal!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Another Move, Honoring a Traitor, and Augmenting Reality

Late in posting again, but I have a good reason. That’s right, the Roving Historian has moved again. Back to the Cumberland Valley! Sheila, Meaghan, Sydney and I are now in the Hagerstown, Maryland area. Although we enjoyed our time there, the “Tip of the Mitt” was a little too quite, too cold, too far from the archives, and too far from the history that we enjoy. We have now more or less split the distance between the National Archives (NARA) in College Park and the Army Heritage Education Center (AHEC) in Carlisle, PA. I’ve only been here three days and I’ve already made the time to ride my bicycle on the C&O Canal path at Williamsport, MD. More on the local history and some pictures of this area to follow soon.

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

Trippin' through Gettysburg

The Fourth of July holiday weekend is right around the corner. I’m such a military history geek, that thinking about the Fourth always reminds me of the anniversary of the Civil War battle of Gettysburg (July 1-3, 1863). This is the perfect time to tell you about my visit to the Battlefield while I was on my research trip in May.

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 Army Heritage and Education Center

In my last post, I told you about my research trip during the first week of May. I started with the National Archives in College Park, Maryland. In this post, I would like to tell you about the Army Heritage and Education Center (AHEC) in Carlisle, PA. This was actually my first stop during my research trip for photos and primary documents on the 509th Parachute Infantry Battalion.

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

An Excellent Adventure at NARA

The Roving Historian has finally gotten to rove again. The first week of May, I was out on my research trip to down to the D.C. area. I visited the Army Heritage and Education Center (AHEC) in Carlisle, PA, and the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) in the D.C. suburb of College Park, MD. At both archives, I was looking for photographs and primary source documents on the 509th Parachute Infantry Battalion during WWII. This trip was the last major step in my research for a book project that I’ve been working on for the last several months. I’ll tell you about my visit to the AHEC and the afternoon I spent traipsing around Gettysburg Battlefield in other posts. In today’s post I would like to try to alleviate some of the apprehension that novice researchers might feel about going to visit NARA. What better way than to tell you about my visit?

The National Archives facility at College Park is also referred to as “Archives II.” Archives I is the main NARA building on the Mall in Washington, D.C. Archives II is a huge facility that was specially designed to house archival records and support research. There are five floors that contain separate research rooms for textual records, still pictures, motion pictures and sound, cartographic and architectural records, and electronic media. Once you go through security, you then go to the basement where lockers are available to store your belongings. The only items that you can carry into a research room are laptops, flatbed scanners, and cameras. Pencils and notepaper are provided.

The first day that I visited College Park my friend Paul (http://www.historydelivered.com/) went with me and helped in the still pictures branch. It was the first visit for both of us. I have to admit that it is nice to have a friend along on the first visit until you feel comfortable with the procedures. I wouldn’t blame you for being uneasy…simply because you don’t know what to expect. However, there is really no reason for hesitation. The folks that work at NARA, especially in the research rooms are super friendly and helpful.

My first day was spent in the Still Pictures research room. Teresa and Holly, the NARA staff members on duty that day were incredible to work with. Teresa showed us how to search the card catalog by keyword. Yes, the estimated 8 million images are indexed by an old-fashioned card catalog. Then she helped us fill out the request form to have the boxes “pulled.” I was lucky to have Paul with me that day as a research partner. He cut my work time in half and at the end of the day we had found and scanned more than three dozen photographs. The biggest distraction you have to fight is the desire to go browsing through the boxes of photographs you’ve had pulled. You have to make a quick decision on whether you need the image or not. Time flies, and what is fun early in the morning becomes work by early afternoon.

Two days later, I was in NARA again. This time flying solo, I visited the textual records room. Here, like in Still Pictures, the catalog was not computerized. A research staff member is there to help, but once you know the procedure, finding what you need is a piece of cake. An index of records of military units from WWII and Korea are kept in three ring binders on the shelf. You can literally help yourself, and write down the boxes you need on a request form. Again, you have to wait for your records to be pulled, which for textual records takes a little longer. But I only had to wait about twenty minutes. You check out your records cart, push it over to a table, and go to work. If you have so much information that you can’t finish in one session, check it back in. Your records are held for you for up to three days, ready for you to work on when you return. Therefore, you don’t have to worry about “pulling” them each day that you are in the archive. For text records, I used my “research camera” and made images of more than 200 pages of primary source documents…mostly operations orders and after action reports created by the 509th PIB.

I would not say that I am an overly experienced researcher. However, I have worked with primary source documents in several local historical societies, two university libraries, and the AHEC on several occasions. In my opinion, my short time at College Park was the best research experience I have ever had. The staff was patient, friendly, and helpful. The work environment was relaxing. Most importantly, I found what I was looking for. Lack of computerized catalogs was not a problem, other than the fact that you can’t find out exactly what is held at NARA until you go there.

Admittedly, most research for a project like mine can, and is, done through secondary sources. Even if you live in a rural or remote area like I do, you can take advantage of interlibrary loan and find most of the information you need. However, for a historian and writer of any experience level, nothing can replace reviewing the primary documents pertaining to your subject. I encourage anyone interested to make the trip to the repository that houses the information you are looking for. Moreover, if it happens to be in the National Archives, you will enjoy the experience.

Picture descriptions, from the top:
Entry gate to the National Archives at College Park, Maryland.
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

Memorial Day Once Again

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 na├»ve 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

A History Mystery: Who's in first?

I still keep in touch with my friends at the Friends of the Ballard Locks (of FOBL for short). For those of you new to this blog, we started our own historical society of volunteers who are putting together an archive at the Hiram Chittenden Locks in Seattle, Washington. If you like, you can catch up on the project from the first post about the project. Well, I couldn't be more proud of the way the group has flourished since I left Seattle in August of last year. In fact, they've been presented with a little history mystery by a local resident.

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!

But here's the rub. There are pictures of boats large and small on opening day. There are pictures of rowboats and canoes. We have a picture of Elmer in his canoe and we have a picture of the Roosevelt taken from Elmer's canoe. Unfortunately, we don't have any documentation, written or photographic, that Elmer's canoe was the first vessel to enter Salmon Bay when the Locks opened. And now we have a mystery to solve. Who was in first? Was it Captain E. Blerd piloting the steamship Roosevelt or Seattle's own Elmer Reed?
So we're putting out the call for help. Can you help to prove that Elmer Reed was the first person out of the Government Locks in Seattle on Opening Day, 1917? If you have any information to contribute, OR if you're in the Seattle area and would like to stop by for a visit, the Friends of the Ballard Locks are a great bunch of people who are doin' history. Contact them through Susan Connole at susanatthelocks@gmail.com.
All images courtesy of the Friends of the Ballard Locks and/or US Army Corps of Engineers. Please do not duplicate without permission.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Getting Out of the Den

Spring is here in Northern Michigan and all of the snow is gone from the ground. It’s time for us all to crawl out of our dens after a long winter hibernation. It’s our first year here so we have to go with what the neighbors tell us, and what we get in the news. Apparently, it was a very mild winter up here at the tip of the mitt. Normally the snow is on the ground until the end of March. I get the impression that it is the truth, as most of the local museums and historical societies are still closed until later next month. I don’t think that their budgets are prepared for an early spring. However, we’re still getting out and learning new things about this part of the country.

For example, did you ever hear of a pastie? No, not the uniform item worn by exotic dancers. This pastie is pronounced with a “soft a.” It’s a meat and vegetable pie that is popular in Northern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula. It’s kind of like a turnover, only with beef or chicken, etc. The story goes that it became popular with Cornish miners of England. Their wives would cook up this “balanced meal in a crust” and send their men off to work with their lunch wrapped in yesterday’s newspaper. When the immigrants came to the Upper Peninsula to work in the mines, they brought the pastie with them and the rest, as they say, is history.

I enjoy the history behind local food, but probably I like eating the food more. We tried one of these pasties a couple of weeks ago at Hunt’s Mackinaw Pastie & Cookie Company in Mackinaw. This restaurant was featured on the Travel Channel, although I didn’t know that at the time we stopped in. Lucky for us, they were the only restaurant we found open on the afternoon we went to look at the ice under the Mackinac Bridge. Nevertheless, that does not mean we settled. Unlike the picture of pasties in an English bakery here, we Americans smother ours in gravy and have a little coleslaw on the side. Pie crust and beef, covered in gravy, what’s not to love?! No, the beef pastie was tasty and I would highly recommend you give one a try. This can go in my “good stuff” file along with the shoe-fly pie from Adams County, Pennsylvania, the tri-tip roast of Fresno, California, and there will never be another reuben sandwich like in that corner market in Port Townsend, Washington.
We explored down the lakeshore on the west side of Michigan last weekend, visiting Manistee and Ludington. I’ll leave you with pictures of the breakwater in Ludington, Michigan. It was a windy day last Saturday, and the breakwater was doing its job.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The "Borinqueneers”

I must admit my ignorance. Before yesterday, I did not know who the “Borinqueneers” were, or the history of the 65th Infantry Regiment. Now that I am enlightened to the contributions of this military unit, I had to share the information with you. First, hear the how and the why that led me to read a little bit about this historic unit.

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.
[Photo is of a U.N. cemetary in Pusan, Korea, 1950. Image archived at the Army Heritage and Education Center in Carlisle, PA.]

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.
The island of Puerto Rico became a U.S. Territory in 1898 at the end of the Spanish-American War. The United States immediately appointed a military governor of the island and the army established a presence there. The Army Appropriation Bill passed by Congress in 1889 authorized the creation of the first unit of “native troops.” The “Porto Rico Provisional Regiment of Infantry” first formed in 1901 would evolve into the 65th Infantry Regiment in the Regular U.S. Army. The unit fought in WWI, WWII, and Korea. The unit was transferred to the Puerto Rico National Guard in 1956, the only active army unit to ever be transferred to the Guard. As National Guard units, members of the 65th Infantry have deployed in support of the Global War on Terror to Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo, and the horn of Africa.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Update on Non-nonfiction

This is an update to my last post. I was remiss in sharing this sooner. A March 8th article in the NY Times tells us that earlier this month Henry Holt and Company, the publishers of Charles Pellegrino’s book Last Train From Hiroshima has stopped printing and selling the book.

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

Stolen Valor and Getting It Wrong

I want to bring your attention to an article I read in the NY Times recently that frankly got my goat both as a historian and as a veteran. It concerns a recently released book titled “The Last Train from Hiroshima” by Charles Pelligrino. Apparently, sections of the book that reveal never-before-told events and details of the mission to drop the first atomic bomb are based on interviews with a veteran who was never there. Take the time to read the article. This veteran, Mr. Joseph Fuoco, claimed to have flown as part of the crew of one of two observation planes that accompanied the Enola Gay. Fuoco claimed that he was put on the flight at the last minute when another crewmember, Mr. James Corliss, got sick. As it turns out, documents and witness accounts tell that Corliss was on the flight in question. There is no proof available that places Fuoco in the 509th Composite Group, much less on the flight in Mr. Corliss’ place. Both veterans have since passed away. The author says that he now realizes he was “probably duped.”

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

Response: Getting a Job with the NPS

In my last post, while introducing you to the blog "In The Service Of Clio," I talked about how hard it is to get a job teaching history at the college level. If I failed to make the point, it's very competitive in other areas of history as well. A lot of people want to get paid for "doin' history." My friend John, who I talked about last post, responded in an email. I wanted to share with you his comments (with his permission) on applying for a job with the National Park Service (NPS):

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

In the Service of Clio

In Greek Mythology, Clio is the muse of history. Therefore, “In the Service of Clio” is what historian Nicholas Evan Sarantakes has titled his blog. I have been following this blog for several months now and enjoyed it so much that I went back and read every post in it. In the Service of Clio is a good read for those who have considered taking on the challenge of obtaining a doctorate in history. The benefit for the rest of us is seeing what there is to do in the field of history other than teaching on the university level.

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

There's more to it than you think...

The following post was originally published as a newsletter article for our graphic design business, Military Vet Shop. I thought I'd share it with you here, along with another appeal for you veterans to get your story and pictures into an archive or at least up on the web! Read what I've said about that in an older post. As always, I invite your comments.

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

Winter is for reading...

Winter is back in full force here in Northern Michigan. For someone who enjoys local history and finding out what happened in his own backyard, this is a tough season. It’s not that we don’t enjoy the weather. We moved here to find the snowy winter we’ve never experienced, and we found it! (Actually, I have experienced it before. In the field in Germany. I wish I had snowshoes back then!) It is just that up here at the tip of the mitt, most every museum and historical society has closed for the winter.

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.

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