Archive for the ‘Americana’ Category

Robert E. Jone’s frequent and almost thematic mention of the storied division’s ‘rendezvous with destiny’ combines with his subtitle (‘The first fifty years’) to suggest that he believes he and his co-authors have written the preface to continued achievements by the Screaming Eagles. The six years that have passed since this book’s 2010 publication debate suggest that his intuition was more than merely loyalty to a storied military unit.

51eekqir52lIn the book’s eloquent preface, Major General Francis L. Samson (Chaplain, USA, Ret.) writes that ‘Sherman was not quite right when he said “War is hell,” for in hell there is no compassion, no love, no generosity, no empathy for the suffering. I believe most firmly that the American serviceman (and service woman) in combat exemplifies more than any segment of our society the virtues of love, of self sacrifice, of courage and of fortitude in the face of danger and death”.

It is this story of non-hell at the gates of hell itself that Jones and others weave competently in four chapters that correspond to the 101st’s birth as the storming of Fortress Europe was on planners’ desks through to the development of the concept of Air Assault and its deployment in Desert Shield and Desert Storm. A fifth chapter presents the formal citations of Screaming Eagles who were awarded (sadly, many posthumously) the Medal of Honor.

The book’s reader will be best placed to absorb the often riveting history of the Scream Eagles if he or she has at least a modest command of ‘U.S. Army dialect’, for Jones does not pause to explain or to collect stragglers. In his story, the 101st was often ‘in first’ when nearly impossible—or at least profoundly unfamiliar—military challenges faced the nation’s civilian masters. This is a tale of rising to the challenge, of finding oneself equal to them, then of returning to one’s barracks knowing that the full story will only rarely be fully known or appreciated.

The book’s style is uneven, perhaps owing to the reality of multiple contributors that is revealed only by small-font attribution at the beginning of each chapter and in the appreciation that constitutes the volume’s concluding pages. The first chapter, ‘World War II’, provides the volume’s finest narrative. It is striking to be reminded how late in the conflict the 101st was created and brought to bear upon Europe’s darkest moment. The epic conflict in the European Theatre is too easily read as an inevitable ‘fait accompli’, for the modern reader knows how it ended. But the men of the 101st, thrown in to experimental modes of warfare as the ‘first to try’, did not. Over and above the massive emphasis on training that Jones chronicles, the newly airborne infantry experimented and adapted and re-thought convention in real time as the politicians and the generals (who by many modern accounts were not the heroes of WWII) did their best to get to Berlin and end this thing.

If Jones’ treatment of WWII represents the book’s best writing, his chapter (the author is actually John L. Burford) on ‘The Training Years’ turns over the soil that is most peppered with surprises. The nation was still weary of war and—beneath the general terror regarding a thermo-nuclear exchange—averse to thinking much about the possibility of its renewal. Yet at the 101st’s Fort Campbell (Kentucky) and a network of collaborating bases, planning for a new kind of mobile warfare continued apace, concealed from civilian life more often by a veil of apathy than of any active attempt to remain hidden. The skies, mountains, and cow pastures of Kentucky and North Carolina played host to Screaming Eagles on planning maneuvers more often than anyone but the locals who sometimes gathered to cheer them on cared to know. Yet these exercises allowed the chiefs of a reconfigured U.S. Army a sense for the potent force that, should its promise be developed and eventually deployed, would allow the newest superpower to order a confusing world at least partially according to its whims.

‘Vietnam’ (Chapter Three, by Gary Linderer) makes for a sad read. Linderer’s take alludes to but strongly counter-argues the reigning mythology of an underperforming military fragging its officers, smoking its weed, and generally exporting America’s worst decadence to a country whose name has been unrecognizable ‘back home’ just a few years earlier. The style is that of an expanded series of after-action reports, in which purposeful movement of helicopter-borne troops wreaked general havoc on the Viet Cong (VC) and the North Vietnamese Army (NVA), with occasionally helpful support from its allies in the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN). Yet despite the detectable stiff upper lip and military deference to civilian authorities that pervade Linderer’s story, one senses the growing critical mass of political indecision that turned the 101st’s performance in Vietnam into one summarized by a tone of ‘We did what we were told and we did it well, but …’. The author of this chapter allows his feelings to be glimpsed when he notes, laconically, that it was difficult for the solider in the jungle to sustain morale and high performance when President Richard Nixon had so clearly decided to end the war. The notion of becoming the last casualty has limited appeal.

During the warn abbreviated as ‘Vietnam’, the nation was grotesquely divided as to its purpose (or the absence of one) in Southeast Asia. How could those at the point of the spear endure the dilemma that was thrust upon them. Yet they did endure and, if Linderer’s story is read for its face value, they left a mission that became dire with the pride that comes from having met one’s rendezvous with destiny gamely, professionally, and without leaving anyone necessarily behind.

The story of the first Gulf War (Desert Shield and Desert Storm) provides the book’s most tactically gripping (Chapter Four: Air Assault, by Thomas H. Taylor) entry. What looked on CNN like an unmitigated romp through the desert turns out to have been built upon the scaffolding of bold and intricate plans that produced a gripping run of cliff-hangers before Saddam Hussein’s goose could finally be pronounced cooked.

The final chapter (Chapter Five: Medal of Honor Recipients) sustains the declaration in the preface that war is not yet hell. But nor is war far from that dark and hopeless doorway. One reads with a heart heavy for fallen soldiers whose best-lived moments were, more often than not, their last.

The book is marred only by a curious frequency of misspellings.

As a matter of full disclosure, this reviewer should disclose that he has no military training or experience (in case this isn’t supremely evident already!) and that he is the admiring and prayerful father of two sons who currently serve as officers among the Screaming Eagles of the 101st Infantry Division (Air Assault). These men serve regularly in places whose names may serve as chapter titles for this book’s sequel.


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Truth be told, Lake Superior and the Wisconsin Northwoods have their hooks in us. Every so often, we pack up the dawg, oil up the F-150, and head the eleven to thirteen hours north to a HomeAway cabin on some bedazzling little lake that looks on a map as though it might have fish in it. Our homing instinct and, sadly, our IQ approximate to those of a trout: strong and mindlessly determined, respectively. (more…)

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When I called my Long-Lost Cousin Maggie to tell her we had made another surprise landing in our beloved Northwoods and were renting a cabin south of Iron River (population 1,123 when everybody answers the door), she asked ‘Are you eating at the Delta Diner?’ Long-Lost doesn’t count for much in these northern climes when good eating is the topic.

Though we’d never heard of the establishment in question, the Good Wife and I had within the hour traveled the seven miles down County Road H, duly registered our names, and were outside chatting with the other Northwoodsmen waiting their turn. Good thing. There’s no place like it. (more…)

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Perhaps 5,000 Hoosiers gathered at Conner Prairie’s amphitheatre on Saturday night, July 23, for an evening of Billy Joel’s and Elton John’s music as the sun descended, set, and disappeared.

‘Magical’ is too light a word for it. (more…)

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My paternal ancestor Salome ‘Sally’ Hoy married William Jacob Leicht in Killinger, Pennylvania, the picturesque valley where I was to walk naively past the gravestones that memorialized—for those more attentive than I—the many Hoys whose remains were lovingly interred in that picturesque place. Alas, I was not among them.

I come only lately to the task of remembering.

There were many Salomes, a.k.a. Sallies, in my family. They included my grandmother, who died when I was nine years old. I have only the dimmest memory of her Pennsylvania German baking and cooking and of the way my grandfather lovingly took her hands in his as he and I shared an uncharacteristically private moment before her open casket in Millersburg, the town of which Killinger somehow manages to style itself a remote outpost.

Alas, none of Salome’s children were to be buried with her husband’s name. They became ‘Lights’, leaving behind the Germanic ‘Leicht’ under which they, presumably, were born.

The Leichts were adventurous in more than just this way. They were among the Hoys and hangers-on—the words seems both cruel and appropriate—who moved west.

Born in Killinger’s rolling, fertile environs, the Leichts cum Lights lived out and finished their days nearly four hundred miles west of that cradling valley in a place called Sulphur Springs, Ohio. It lies midway between Columbus and Cleveland and, except for the lack of hills, might have reminded Salome and William of Killinger, whence they came.

By the time the Leichts had accomodated themselves to their new, level, surroundings, their children were trotting off to school and responding to roll call under the family ‘Light’. Germany was a distant memory.

America had not yet been called upon, twice, to save Europe from herself. The migration of a family name must have obeyed more prosaic rhythms. Perhaps Salome’s ‘Dutch’ dialect had no cachet with the young folks. They were American. They were Ohians. Pennslvania, Killinger, David’s Church … these were memories of the old folks.

Something was lost in the exchange. Something was gained. Few noticed either.

It is ever so.

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The most important things happen when nobody is looking. It has ever been so.

Jerry Poling’s winsome and poignant tale of an 18-year-old, skinny-as-a-rail African American boy from Mobile, Alabama making his break into professional baseball in Eau Claire, Wisconsin in 1952 rescues some of those things from the obscurity that persistently enshrouds.

My father was a relief pitcher for the Superior (Wisconsin) Blues that year. He too was breaking into professional ball with a wicked curve ball that by some accounts had the future Hank Aaron stymied. Raymond ‘Cool as a Cucumber’ Baer is not mentioned in Poling’s eminently readable volume. Yet the fact that Dad was on the field during some of the games that Poling narrates provides corroboration of boyhood memories of tales spun that is almost eery in its impact.

Eau Claire, like most of the decent cities that dot the heartland of this nation, was in 1952 capable of racial pettiness as well. Few whites in the industrial core of Wisconsin had met a black man. Aaron, more boy than man, walked uninvited into their lives, struggling to decide whether it was worth all that. But boy could the kid from Mobile hit a baseball. (more…)

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awash in daughters

My ancestor Daniel Hoy waited a long time for his first son. Or at least it seems so, for I am unable to discern whether ‘Valentine’ Hoy (a.k.a. ‘Wall’) was a son or a daughter. Valentine became in July of 1850 the first-born of Daniel and Hanna Werner Hoy as the couple made its their home among the gentle, verdant hills of Lykens Valley, Pennsylvania.

Whatever the gender of the whimsically-named Valentine, it is beyond dispute that Elizabeth thereafter presented to Daniel an impressive run of females.

Some of the couple’s girls, in keeping with the times, were short-lived. For others, Eva Hoy Haelen—the tenacious data-seeker upon whose work I am reliant—could find birthdates but no record of their decease.

Yet the names are there, all of them less gender-ambiguous than that of their older sibling. As these United States of America careened towards an epic and soul-shaping Civil War, along came Louise (1852), then Susanna (1853), then Emma Rebecca (1855), followed by Mary (1857). Mary was still presumably in diapers when she ceded baby-of-the-family status to little sister Hanna (1858), who survived only four years. Hanna was followed by Amanda and then Sarah Jane. All three died just days apart in October and November of 1862, carried off by who knows what hardship as Union troops faced down their Confederate brethren for a second consecutive winter. (more…)

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Bike shops seem to enjoy a high-spirited ambience in disproportionate numbers. It is not uncommon for camaraderie to season the interaction between owners, staff, and customers.

Yet even in this remarkable arena, Asheville’s Liberty Bicycles stands out.

This Trek-heavy and expansive shop is filled with dogs, most lolly-gagging comfortably on the floor but one or two prancing about in high spirits. Better yet, the customer service is simply unbeatable. Not only efficient, accurate, and knowledgeable, but kind, personable, and humane as well.

If my experience serves as an accurate thermometer—after watching LB’s team interact with other customers, I have no doubt that it does—these folks will always go the extra mile for you. This was my first visit to gorgeous Asheville. I rented a Trek Madone from Liberty Bicycles and enjoyed three days of cycling in this majestic terrain. Liberty Bike’s easy rental arrangements made everything seamless.

Nothing but the best here for bike novices, aficionados, and experts of western North Carolina

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An exquisite sweetness pervades the grounds of Charlotte, North Carolina’s Billy Graham Library. For those of us schooled on certainties like the taboo of evangelists naming their organization after themselves, the experience seems destined to lurch in the direction of hoakiness, not least when the tour kicks off with a visit from a mechanical, talking cow.

Yet two hours later I leave with tears in my eyes, a lump in my throat, and the irrepressible desire to praise the God who would turn a dairy farmer’s son into ‘the evangelist to the world’ and then adroitly shepherd him through a lifetime of encounters with history-making moments, kings and presidents, stadiums and delicatessens, and conversations with the mighty and the mild. (more…)

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If you had told me a year ago that I’d be sitting in the third row of a stadium-like conference venue with 37,000 pilgrims who’ve gathered from the four corners to listen to Berkshire Hathaway’s Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger scrape their chairs up to a table and answer questions for a day, I’d have wondered what you were smoking. Or curious whether you’d glimpsed my impending early retirement.

Yet thanks to a Buffett disciple who’s simultaneously joined the board of the Christian non-profit organization I direct and become a friend-for-life, the invitation to do just that came into my hands. Out of respect for my host, I joined the airport queues of the faithful making hajj in Omaha.

I shall not soon forget what I saw in that city, heretofore known to me chiefly as the source of mail-order steaks. (more…)

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