Sunday, February 12, 2017

Still a soldier, no longer young

Hal Moore is dead, a couple days short of his 95th birthday. He is remembered as the hero who saved most of his men in the first major battle between US and NVA troops, at Ia Drang in 1965, but to me he is the guy partly responsible for the greatest book title ever penned: We Were Soldiers Once ... And Young. (Mel Gibson portrayed him in the movie, which did the unforgivable: left out the best part of the title!)

That's a Combat Infantryman's Badge on his left shoulder. Usually it annoys me to see generals wearing it, but in his case it seems perfectly appropriate. Shantih, shantih, shantih, General Moore!

Saturday, January 07, 2017

Three Flying Tigers come home (or were here all along!)

Seventy-five years after they died, three Flying Tiger pilots have come home -- or more accurately, they've been home since 1947, only nobody seemed to know about it. At left is John Armstrong, killed September 8, 1941. The others are Maax Hammer, killed September 22, and Peter Atkinson, killed October 25, 1941. Each was on a training flight in a Curtiss Tomahawk, similar to the US Army P-40B. They were buried at St. Luke's anglican church in Toungoo. Unknown to their families, the remains were exhumed after the war, taken to India, then reburied at the Punchbowl Cemetery on Oahu, Hawaii. And there they have rested ever since, while the next generation of relatives tried to find out what happened to them. Only last summer were the graves were dug up and the remains removed to the US military lab in Hawaii for DNA testing. Finally, a week or so ago, the word came back: Armstrong, Hammer, and Atkinson have all been positively identified. For more, go to the Annals of the Flying Tigers online. Blue skies! -- Dan Ford

Saturday, December 24, 2016

A welder, a fighter pilot, and a scholar

I met many memorable people while researching the history of the American Volunteer Group, the Flying Tigers of Burma and China. My favorite, though, was Don Lopez, assistant director of the National Air & Space Museum and my mentor during the year I spent in Washington, translating Japanese accounts of the air war in Southeast Asia, 1941-1942. Don was the son of a welder in Brooklyn, He became hooked on flying, joined the U.S. Army at the age of eighteen, and was sent to China soon after the AVG was disbanded. He flew 101 combat missions, survived a mid-air collision with a Nakajima Hayabusa fighter of the Japanese Army Air Force, and was credited with destroying five enemy aircraft in air-to-air combat. Postwar, he served as a USAF test pilot and later went to work as an aeronautical specialist for the Smithsonian Institution. He helped create the Air & Space Museum, and served as its assistant director until he died at the age of 84.

Don had a son who continues his name, and I was delighted to see in the Wall Street Journal today that Donald S. Lopez Jr. is the author of The Lotus Sutra: A Biography, just out from Princeton University Press. Only in America! The Lopez family has gone in three generations from blue-collar worker to fighter ace to scholar. And if my mentor was any example, they have all been men to enjoy, to appreciate, and to learn from.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

How presidents are elected

My granddaughters are visiting from Alaska, so on Monday I went with them to the state capitol to watch the Electoral College in action. A band of ageing hippies with saucepans greeted up at the capitol steps with the chant: "We reject! The President-elect!" Inside, and up two flights, was the Executive Council chamber with its handsome brown leather chairs and portraits of New Hampshire notables dating back to 1686. (They were all men, a situation that would be corrected in a few hours' time. Misogyny had no chance on December 19, when all four Electors and the governor were women.) The room is a big one, but it was crowded with spectators, including schoolchildren sitting on the floor and the customary grubby assortment of journalists.

It was all very moving. The secretary of state, a bald gentleman of seventy or so, told us how the new states (only ten of which actually voted!) had to devise its own system to choose Electors, since the Constitution hadn't specified. Then the four ladies and the governor made pretty speeches, all but one choosing to talk about herself and the wonders of woman-power. The exception was my favorite politician, Dudley Webster Dudley. She took the opportunity to do a bit of business, urging New Hampshire to join the National Popular Vote compact, which would have us assign (shamefully, IMHO) our four votes to the candidate receiving the most votes nationwide. (I wonder how that would have gone down with the ageing hippies with their saucepans and their chant, had the national vote gone the other way, had the compact been in force, and had our Electors voted for Mr Trump though we had chosen Mrs Clinton?)

Then each of the ladies voted, with a pen, on a piece of paper, with a golden seal, and the package stuck together with red sealing wax! It was wonderful. I wonder if our four votes have reached Washington yet, or have they been delayed by the Christmas mail?

After an intermission, Dudley's portrait was unveiled by her granddaughter. It isn't a terribly good likeness of the lovely Executive Councilor of 1976, though she did fare a bit better than Winston Churchill in like circumstances. (He apparently arranged to have his portrait burned.) There was no explanation of how space will be made to hang the painting, since there is already a portrait for each vertical space on the walls. I was told that the oldest painting would come down, to make room for the newest, but this absolutely must not be done, any more than a people should vote to deprive themselves of their vote. The gentleman in question is Joseph Dudley, her great-great-something or other, the president (later governor) of Massachusetts Bay Colony, which at the time included New Hampshire. A better solution, I think, would be to have the two Dudleys share the same vertical space, with the woman of course on top.

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

It's a frightening world out there!

I always check the Hazardous Weather Warning on the National Weather Service site. This morning's is especially poignant. Isn't it comforting that someone in the government is worried that my front step might be slippery?


Monday, November 28, 2016

Peak Oil redux

Forty years ago, Aristotle Onassis wanted to build an oil refinery in my backyard, and of course we all banded together to stop him. One of our refrains (a popular one at the time) was that the world was running out of oil, so what was the point of building a refinery that by the year 2000 would have nothing to refine? Didn't happen that way! Each decade, the experts had to reset the day of Peak Oil, when production would begin to decline, pushing doomsday further into the future.

And this morning the Wall Street Journal is fretting anew, but this time about Peak Oil Demand. It's not a shortage of oil that's the new fear, but customers for all that oil. One Eastern European oil company sees demand flattening about 2030 and falling thereafter. The giants -- Exxon, BP, Saudi Arabia -- likewise anticipate a time when they will have to make their profit instead from petrochemicals, natural gas, and even (are you ready?) solar power!

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The globalized American chicken

We eat a lot of chicken and turkey breasts in this house, and I have often wondered: who eats the legs? This morning, the Wall Street Journal provides the answer. American chicken legs go to Africa, where they are favored because they are cheaper than breast meat. In 2014, our exports of frozen poultry to Ghana, Angola, and Congo came to more than half a billion dollars, which is not chicken feed.