Category Archives: memorials

December 17, 2013, 7:57 pm

The Guns of Fredericksburg

Flamethrower in action
Marines 5

[Guest post! Kanisorn Wongsrichanalai of Angelo State University returns and is kind enough to write for Edge on memorializing the Pacific War in Texas. Post and photos copyright K. Wongsrichanalai 2013.]

On the face of it, Fredericksburg, Texas could be any other tourist town in America with its small local craft stores brimming with knickknacks and its main street embracing the image of a town very much in touch with its roots. Founded by German immigrants in the nineteenth century, this central Texas town has capitalized on its past to tempt travelers from Austin (only an hour and a half away), San Antonio (one hour away), and other regions of the country with sweet and tempting aromas of freshly baked German pastries, frothy beer steins, and piles of sausage, schnitzel, sauerkraut, and, at one spot in particular, the best peach bread pudding you’ll ever…

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December 11, 2013, 7:44 am

Flags Reflected, 2013


August 15, 2013, 4:10 am

The Chivalry of the Rebel General Lee

Having returned from my vacation (the Jersey shore; very restful. To keep up my military history credentials, I went and took a look at Bunker 223:


It’s not actually terribly interesting as it looks mostly like a giant hunk of concrete from the outside and it’s not possible to get inside), I was drawn into a conversation (on Facebook) about Robert E. Lee and treason (sparked by this article). During the course of it, I found an article in the Times from 1864 called “The Chivalry of the Rebel General Lee” that had a quite remarkable statement about Lee and treason:

The simple truth is that the very fact of a soldier’s abandoning his flag involves an abandonment of character. LEE received his military education from the Government, had been constantly honored and trusted by the Government, and it was the extreme of perfidy in him to turn traitor against the Government. The soul…

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July 25, 2013, 5:58 pm

Vomiting is Present! Man Overboard!

Sometimes, two forms of communication don’t mix:

When the National Park Service wanted to dress up the U.S. Navy Memorial here, officials decided to fly signal flags, a colorful but archaic form of ship-to-ship communication. Visitors to the site today encounter two flagpoles designed to look like ships’ masts, on which 14 signal flags are arrayed in four groups. Each flag represents a letter. Together, they are supposed to spell: U-S-N-A-V-Y-M-E-M-O-R-I-A-L….[Unfortunately], there are several different ways to read signal flags. “Vomiting is present. Man overboard,” the flags on one yardarm would read. M-E-M is the signal for vomiting. O means someone has fallen into the sea.

A local yachtsman, who drives by the memorial regularly, complained to the National Park Service about the multiple messages. The memorial has settled on leaving the flags up, preserving a message that can be…

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April 16, 2013, 8:25 pm

Brought Us Safe Thus Far

Judy Collins, the Boston Pops, and the audience doing “Amazing Grace,” in Boston’s Symphony Hall, 1976:

October 5, 2012, 6:14 pm

The Passing of Memory

I’ve commented on this before, but the topic has a elegiac fascination. Every memory passes from earth eventually, but sometimes, when an organization has been built to commemorate that event, the passing becomes more public. Thus, too, with the Submarine Veterans of World War II:

It was difficult for the national organization to find members able to serve as officers and to complete all of the administrative tasks. In their last roster, published 10 years ago, the pages listing the deceased members outnumbered those listing active members.

“The guys said, ‘I was all for staying. My shipmate came to the convention with me. He’s gone now and I don’t feel like coming,’“ said Kraus, 91, of Crescent Springs, Ky.

The organization officially disbanded this year. Local chapters could continue if they felt like it. The memories–a few of them–survive in a form, in oral…

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September 11, 2012, 3:32 pm

On This Day Of Mourning

On this day of mourning, there are further revelations about how badly the Bush Administration bungled in the run up to 9/11 (and stealing a meme from Brad DeLong). During the summer of 2001, the intelligence community desperately tried to warn President Bush that Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda had an attack planned against the United States. The August 6 Presidential Daily Briefing was entitled, in about as direct a way as possible “Bin Laden determined to strike in United States.” That PDB came out as part of the work of the 9/11 commission. But that was not the only briefing that summer, according to the New York Times:

The direct warnings to Mr. Bush about the possibility of a Qaeda attack began in the spring of 2001. By May 1, the Central Intelligence Agency told the White House of a report that “a group presently in the United States” was planning a terrorist operation. Weeks later…

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March 6, 2012, 2:32 pm

On the Naming of Carriers

Cvn 80 02
USS Bubba?

Current American aircraft carriers are named for United States Presidents, living and dead, or political and naval leaders of some importance. In the former category, we have the USS Theodore Roosevelt, the USS Ronald Reagan (named when Reagan was still alive), the USS Harry S Truman, and others. In the latter, we have the USS Nimitz (named for the most important American admiral of WWII), the USS John C. Stennis (a Senator critical to the Navy over several decades), and the USS Carl Vinson (a Congressman of similar ilk).

They’re running out of recent Presidents to name them, though. The lead ship (CVN-78) of the new carrier class (successors to the Nimitz class) was named the USS Gerald R. Ford. Ford had naval connections, but not a particularly successful Presidency. The next ship in that class (CVN-79) has been named the USS John F. Kennedy, a quick reuse of that name …

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February 2, 2012, 1:18 pm

The past really is a foreign country.

Charles Pierce (who is awesome) included this in his touching remembrance of Don Cornelius. Ad agencies really should use historical figures as pitchmen more often.

November 9, 2011, 12:38 pm

Renovating Rushmore.

Herman Cain, among his many insane ramblings over the past few days, apparently suggested that his face should be on Mt. Rushmore. Well, fair enough. (Though, having visited the monument last summer, I have to admit that I found it more affecting than I expected. I mean, it’s very big. And by the way, Lincoln but no FDR, amiright? No, seriously, there was something about the scale of the president’s faces, the setting in which they’re carved, and the history of dispossession surrounding the place that left me feeling a bit overwhelmed by the power of the state to shape the landscape of American memory.)

Anyway, Michelle Bachmann picked up the ball and ran with it. To her credit, she didn’t suggest that she should join Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt (Teddy — aka, “The Real Man’s Roosevelt”), and Lincoln. Her pick? James Garfield. Wait, what? Garfield? My colleague, Kathy…

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December 16, 2010, 2:34 pm


On November 7, 1962, Richard Nixon conceded his loss to Pat Brown in the race for governor of California, saying famously, “You don’t have Nixon to kick around any more, because, gentlemen, this is my last press conference.” In 1963, after the assassination of President Kennedy, the Beat poet Bob Kaufman (pictured) took a vow of complete silence, spoken and written.† And in 1982, after four years as governor, Pat Brown’s son Jerry decided not to run for a third term, instead running for the Senate, losing to Pete Wilson, and withdrawing to study Buddhism in Japan.

In that spirit, it’s time for me to sign off. This has been a marvelous blog, and I’ve been happy to contribute to it. Cheers all, and see you in the ether.

† Which he kept until 1975, when he walked into a coffeeshop in North Beach and recited a poem.

September 7, 2010, 12:00 pm

The End of Memory, the Beginning of History

There’s a transition between memory and history that happens as events stop being personal experiences and start being records. As the generation that experienced a certain era (World War II, the Cuban Missile Crisis, 9/11), begins to disappear from the scene, that era becomes “historical” in a way that it wasn’t before. OLYMPIA.jpg
So, too, when the remnants of an era begin to disappear:

My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

This process can be fast. My first year students this semester were 10-11 years old when 9/11 happened, and they remember it much less distinctly than I do.

It can be slow. The flagship of Admiral George Dewey’s Asiatic Fleet from the Spanish-American War, the USS Olympia is still open for public viewing

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July 7, 2010, 9:53 am


medalLarge.jpgPreviously here and here. Both posts discussed the shifting standards for Medals of Honor, including the increasing percentage awarded posthumously. Now, there comes a report that a Medal of Honor recommendation has gone up to the White House for someone who survived their heroism:

The Pentagon has recommended that the White House consider awarding the Medal of Honor to a living soldier for the first time since the Vietnam War, according to U.S. officials.

The last Medal of Honor given to a live recipient was to Michael Edwin Thornton, for actions on 31 October 1972. Thornton’s MOH also seems to have been the last one given in the Vietnam conflict (I can’t find any for actions dated later).

The nomination comes after several years of complaints from lawmakers, military officers and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates that the Pentagon had become so cautious that only troops whose…

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January 18, 2010, 12:01 am

MLK day.

Because a couple of people have asked me to, I’m re-posting a link to this. And yes, I know that I was a much better blogger when I put more time into it. Thanks for mentioning it. Anyway, the text of the post is below the fold. Happy MLK Day.


December 7, 2009, 12:26 pm

December 7th

Battleship Row, 7 December 1941

On this day on December 7, 1941, “a date which will live in infamy” the American naval base on Oahu at Pearl Harbor was attacked by Japan. Pearl Harbor has become iconic though sometimes people who shouldn’t have have nonetheless forgotten the exact date.

There are a substantial number of remembrances across the web today, including here, here, here (photos), and here.

USS Maine

I don’t aim to repeat that with my post. What I am interested in on this anniversary is the way in which the United States memorializes its disasters. America has a series of tragic dates, which are often remembered better than the victories. Pearl Harbor–I think–is more familiar than Midway (though perhaps not D-Day). The Maine is remembered more than any battle in the Spanish-American War. The Alamo still resonates in a way that no victory of either the Texas…

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