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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Battle Of Leyte Gulf

Pacific Glory is a naval action thriller set in WW II by P.T. Deautermann. Think the movie Pearl Harbor. It’s what I would describe as a Hollywood style potboiler. Stunning women. Young dashing heroes. And all based on real and amazing events. Sort of....

It chronicles the WW II exploits of two naval officers who were roommates at the Naval Academy. In 1942, Lt. Marsh "Beauty" Vincent is serving aboard a heavy cruiser off Guadalcanal, while Lt. Mick "Beast" McCarty is an ace pilot at Midway. After Marsh is injured, he's shipped to convalesce in Hawaii, where he runs into Glory, a nurse who's the widow of his other Annapolis roommate, Tommy Lewis, who died in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Meanwhile, Marsh strikes up a romance with nurse Sally Adkins, and the two of them wind up celebrating Christmas 1943 at Pearl Harbor with Mick and Glory. Marsh and Mick later cross paths on the eve of the climactic Battle of Leyte Gulf off the Philippines.

As I began reading the story I started to get the feeling that I’d read it before. Like the author was plagiarizing someone else’s book. Then I remembered I was reading a novel. In novels you can make up anything you want. Finally, it dawned on me. I had, apparently, read too many actual history books involving the people and events being portrayed. In the afterword, the author identified the rea l people and events portrayed in his book . Fair enough. Too bad though. I tend to think that the best historical fiction hews fairly close to the actions, motivations and emotions of the real people involved. These, of course, can only be guessed at based on careful historical research.

The sad thing in Deautermanns story is that the actual people involved in the naval battle of Leyte Gulf were far more interesting than his Hollywood stereotypes. Take the character Marsh "Beauty" Vincent. In the story, he became Captain of the destroyer Evans shortly before the big battle in Leyte Gulf. The light bulb went on when I read that name. There was no destroyer Evans in the actual battle but there was a Commander Ernest Evans, a Cherokee Indian and Annapolis graduate who led his destroyer on the last great charge in the last great naval battle in history. A Medal of Honor recipient for his acts of bravery and leadership in the battle of Leyte Gulf, he overcame extreme poverty and prejudice to become a naval officer before the war. Knowing the story of his defense of the carriers of Taffy 3, I had always admired him as a great hero and still do. With his tiny destroyers ammunition all gone and the ship ablaze, he continued to attack the largest battleships ever built.

On the other side of the coin was Admiral Takeo Kurita, the Japanese battleship commander charged with making what was, in essence, a suicidal fleet attack against the American invasion of the Philippines. He was, perhaps, the most intriguing of all. By means of a clever deception, which put Bull Halsey reputation at risk, Kurita's force of battleships fought and destroyed a portion of a smaller and outgunned American naval force in a night battle in Leyte Gulf. Then faced with the prospect of being annihilated by the power of Halsey's overwhelming carrier force, he choose a "mysterious retreat" in violation of his orders. He was later praised after the war as a "seaman of seamen," but never honored for "his humaneness, as a commander, who chose not to foolishly waste the lives of his men in a grand but empty act of bushido" In the hands of a skilled historical novelist, like Sharon Kay Penman, Colleen McCullough, Jeff Shaara, James Clavell and many others, what a wonderful novel this could have been. Instead of focusing on the minute details of the battle had he only told the story of the poeple involved it could have been great. Evan Thomas did that in his book Sea of Thunder.

I don't think one has to be particularly interested in refighting old battles from WWII to learn something worthwhile from from Evan Thomas's book. The vagaries of courage and honor in the face of cultural imperatives are a subject for any era. Think of things like the "doctine of preemption" as a basis for a national foreign policy or "enhanced interrogation" as best means of protecting our national security. Light entertainment Pacific Glory. The real stuff Sea of Thunder

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Sand County Almanac

It had been some time since I had read Aldo Leopolds Sand County Almanac. I reread it again yesterday. As I learn more and see more going on in the world around me, it gets better each time. One of the founding "philosophers" of what today is called environmentalism, his words speak for now and the future.

"I am glad I will not be young in a future without wilderness."

"Examine each question in terms of what is ethically and aesthetically right, as well as what is economically expedient. A thing is right when it tends to perserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise."

"The last word in ignorance is the man who says of an animal or plant: 'What good is it?"

"Civilization has so cluttered this elemental man-earth relationship with gadgets and middlemen that awareness of it is growing dim. We fancy that industry supports us, forgetting what supports industry."

"We abuse land because we see it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect."

"The land ethic simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants, and animals, or collectively: the land... In short, a land ethic changes the role of Homo sapiens from conqueror of the land-community to plain member and citizen of it. It implies respect for his fellow-members, and also respect for the community as such." "Cease being intimidated by the argument that a right action is impossible because it does not yield maximum profits, or that a wrong action is to be condoned because it pays."

Thursday, March 17, 2011

St Patrick Drives the Norwegians Out Of Ireland

Now before you read the historical facts here.... remember as a Minnesotan I have nothing against the Norwegians (including my sainted mother).

Did you know the reason the Irish celebrate St. Patrick’s Day is because this is when St. Patrick drove the Norwegians out of Ireland. It seems that some centuries ago, many Norwegians came to Ireland to escape the bitterness of the Norwegian winter. Ireland was having a famine at the time, and food was scarce. The Norwegians were eating almost all the fish caught in the area, leaving the Irish with nothing to eat but potatoes.
St. Patrick,taking matters into his own hands, as most Irishmen do, decided the Norwegians had to go. Secretly, he organized the Irish IRATRION (Irish Republican Army to Rid Ireland of Norwegians) Irish members of IRATRION passed a law in Ireland that prohibited merchants from selling ice boxes or ice to the Norwegians, in hopes that their fish would spoil. This would force the Norwegians to flee to a colder climate where their fish would keep. Well, the fish spoiled, all right, but the Norwegians, as everyone knows today, thrive on spoiled fish.
So, faced with failure, the desperate Irishmen sneaked into the Norwegian fish storage caves in the dead of night and sprinkled the rotten fish with lye, hoping to poison the Norwegian invaders. But, as everyone knows, the Norwegians thought this only added to the flavor of the fish. They liked it so much they decided to call it "lutefisk", which is Norwegian for "luscious fish". Matters became even worse for the Irishmen when theNorwegians started taking over the Irish potato crop and making something called "lefse".
Poor St. Patrick was at his wit’s end, and finally on March 17th, he blew his top and told all the Norwegians to "GO TO HELL". So they all got in their boats and emigrated to Minnesota or the Dakotas —- the only other paradise on earth where smelly fish, old potatoes and plenty of cold weather can be found in abundance.
The End.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

St. Denis

It has been been a few years since Mrs T, myself and friends Steve and Jewel traveled to France.
For my spouse, it was the fullfillment of a promise I had made to her upon her retirement. Our tour took us through Normandy, Brittany and the Loire Valley. Then there was the City of Light - Paris.When we entered the city on the final leg of trip, Philip our tour guide, was pointing out the fact that people of Paris were rightly proud of their city. Also, that the millions of people who lived in the suburbs surrounding the city, were not considered to be "true Parisians." He noted that living in the city and some of its suburbs was quite expensive. Also , that there were areas where unemployment, crime, decay and other social problems were endemic. One of them was the suburb of St. Denis. I noted that last point but didn't catch the name.
That evening, we had dinner at a sidewalk cafe, alongside the famous Cathedral of Notre Dame. There, we had an important decision to make. We had a "free day" in the city the next morning. Our choices were optional tours, including the Louve or the studio's of several famous Impressionist painters or launching out on our own for the day. Three of the four of us had previously been to the Louve. Mrs T. hadn't but opted anyway for a day on our own. We left quite early the next morning by taking the underground to the end of the line, St. Denis. St. Denis is the location of a famous cathdral. I had proposed visiting there because in the long history of France, it turns out to be the burial place of all but three of their kings and queens. During the train ride we struck up a conversation with a young university student from Ghana. Upon arriving at the station, he pointed out the direction of the Cathedral and said it was about 8 blocks away. He also strongly advised us to wait and take the bus to the church because their were "drug dealers and gangs in the area." After a brief conference, with the women voting "yes" to take the bus and men voting "nay", we bravely stepped off toward the cathedral. The women were not overly impressed with this "macho decision", as they called it. It turned out to be 8 blocks of closed shops (things don't open till ten apparently)and very few people. There were some beggers, a few young men hanging on the street corners and about a dozen vendors sitting on rugs on the sidewalk with their wares spread on the ground. From the outside, the cathedral itself was not overly dramatic, compared to Chartes and some of the others we had seen. Still, when you stepped inside, you automatically look up to the rafters and can't help but being impressed. I tried to imagine solemn ceremonies, going back a thousand years, when the rulers of France were put to rest.We looked at the side chapels, memorials and the altar. Then we descended into the crypts. There were Louis XIV The Sun King, Eleanore of Aquitaine's first husband Francis and on and on including (pictured here) Louis the XVI and his queen Marie Antoinette.
I think we must have spent more than two hours there, including a walk around on the outside. Then we returned the way we had come. What a difference! The stores were open The street was jam packed with people. For a moment,I felt like I was on the Midway at the State Fair. Naturally, we had to check out some of the stores and make some purchases. There was also some big rugby tournament going on that week Finally we went back to the heart of the city and a walk down the Champs Elysees to a sidewalk cafe.
That evening, we rejoined our tour group for dinner on the Monmarte and a show at the Moulin Rouge. During the bus ride to the restaurant, Phillip had to ask where those that had gone that day on their own spent their time. We had already talked to him on this point. He prefaced his question though by pointing out that "the intrepid and daring travelers from Minnesota" had gone that morning to St. Denis. "I have led tour groups here in France (he was British by the way) for 16 years and I also talked to other tour guides and "NO ONE HAS EVER HAD ANYONE GO UP TO ST. DENIS BEFORE." They all looked around at us. There were a few giggles and then a small round of applause. We looked at each other not knowing whether to be proud or embarrased. Ok, so I had missed the part about the areas that might be unsafe for tourists!!! The country bumpkins from rural Minnesota . Hey... Troutbirder likes history. Can't you tell?

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Goldy Assaulted

I reported, in the previous post, that we attended a University of Minnesota gymnastics meet, last weekend at the Sports Pavilion. Apparently, I missed the most newsworthy event taking place on that occasion, judging by the space given to it and the number of comments, on it, in the Minneapolis Star and Tribune.
The report was that a St. Thomas University Professor, U of M graduate and fervant fan, who was annoyed by the antics of "Goldy" the Gopher Team Mascot, punched him out twice, and knocked him over in front of a group of trailing, excited and then crying children. It seems that the rodent (who job is to entertain the fans, had done the old tap on someone’s shoulder on the left side, while sitting behind them on the right side trick. This was for laughs. Twice. Then Goldy got slugged. Twice. This response was because the professors "space" had been violated. The action apparently was in lieu of saying something profound like "don’t do that I don’t like it" or taking the matter to a nearby usher. Good grief.
Now the amazing thing, to me, was the response of the many "commentators" to the newspapers article. That response was about even, as to who was to blame in this bizarre situation.
What a contentious, overly angry , society we live in these days.

The victim. No photograph was available of the perpetrator....

Monday, March 7, 2011

Wild Weekend

So what do Mr. & Mrs Troutbirder do on a dreary, cold weekend in March in Minnesota? If cabin fever has taken over and they are bored silly? They head off to the Twin Cities for some fun and excitement, by visiting their good friends, Gary & Rosie.
We motored north. It’s about a two hour drive from the middle-of-nowhere to Apple Valley. Arrival meant catching up on family news and recent activities. Then we got going on summer vacations and travel ideas. We’ve camped all over the lower 48 with this couple and even did a six week trip to Alaska and back with them.

This has been going on since before kids. In other words, we’re compatible. A year ago, besides Minnesota outings, we went together, birding and Twins spring training watching in Fort Myers, Florida. With many options for this year explored, we grabbed a quick bite and headed off to the Sports Pavilion on the University of Minnesota campus.
The renamed pavilion was an old familiar venue from my college days at the U. Then it was the Golden Gophers men's hockey teams arena (Women’s college hockey hadn’t been invented yet.) Now, refurbished. it houses men's and women’s gymnastics, men’s wrestling and women’s volleyball. We were there for men's gymnastics. What fun to watch these most athletic of any athletes. The Gophers were taking on the hated Hawkeyes from Iowa and the Nittany Lions of Penn State.
Of course, getting in the collegiate spirit, after the meet we adjourned to another local establishment featuring adult beverages. Needless to say, Troutbirder and Co. stayed up much later than his usual appointed bedtime.
The next day found the crew attending a more age appropriate activity. It was a community concert featuring the Velvet Tones and starring friend Gary himself. They were in concert with the local elementary school choir. The groups consists of seniors 55 and up who just plain love to sing.
That's my "best man" Gary a few decades later, back row, far right singing his heart out. Non-profit, theVelvet Tones appear in various settings throughout the Metro area and even did a gig on the stage at the Guthrie theater in Minneapolis. They "rock" in surprising ways, doing contemporary as well as traditional music. The highlight of Sunday's performance was listening to the energetic seniors combine with the equally energetic elementary students in singing "Why We Sing. Great!".

Friday, March 4, 2011

Generals In Blue and Gray

Wilmer L Jones has written an introduction to the Civil War. After thousands and thousand and thousands of books on the subject he is introducing it? Indeed! Let me explain. This volume uses biographical sketches of twenty-one Union generals to tell the story of the Civil War and examine the implementation of Northern strategy. Among these generals are prominent figures like Ulysses S. Grant, George McClellan, and William T. Sherman, as well as Daniel Sickles, whose actions sparked intense controversy at Gettysburg, and the lesser known John McClernand, a congressman who lobbied for his own appointment. In Wilmer Jones's accounts, which focus on character, personality, leadership ability, military skill, and politics, each general comes starkly to life.
This well written volume might appeal to two widely differenct categories of people:
(1) the total Civil War novice. That is the person who was more focused on the opposite sex in 10 grade history, feel asleep there or only recently came to the realization that it could be interesting and worthwhile to know about. The book is like looking over the cast of character description in an play before you see the play. Who are these people?
(2) the total civil war buff and expert. That is the person who has read hundreds of books on the subject, can describe in detail strategy, details and consequences of nearly every battle that was fought. The interest would be in finding out where these people came from, their family background, education, romantic interests and what happened to them after the war was over. Also when they died and where they were buried, in case you want to visit any or all of the cemetaries.
Would you believe believe I read every word? And plan to check out Volume Two: Davis's Generals.
Your right. I'm a Civil War buff. It's an obsession.