George Marshall and the Atomic Age

Here is an upcoming event I wish I could attend: the George C. Marshall Foundation in Lexington, Virginia is hosting chemistry professor and author Frank Settle this coming Thursday, August 6. That is of course the 70th anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. Dr. Settle is the author of the forthcoming General George C. Marshall and the Atomic Bomb. As this article from the Richmond Times-Dispatch makes clear historians have largely overlooked Marshall’s outsized role in the planning and construction of the Bomb. The undertaking lasted several years and involved over half a million military and civilian personnel at a cost of $30 billion in today’s dollars. This was all taking place in secret while he and Secretary of War Henry Stimson were carrying out a two-front war in Europe and the Pacific.

Amy Chief of Staff Marshall and Secretary of War Henry Stimson confer in early 1942. The two WW1 veterans were instrumental in the creation of the Manhattan Project ushering in the Atomic Age.

Army Chief of Staff Marshall and Secretary of War Henry Stimson confer in early 1942. The two WW1 veterans were instrumental in the creation and implementation of the Manhattan Project ushering in the Atomic Age. Both men served as Secretary of State at different points in their careers.

It is incredible the way the senior leadership in the Second World War had multiple careers that stretched all the way back to the First. Stimson was Secretary of War in the Taft Administration and part of the Preparedness Movement along with such individuals as Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt, who at the time was assistant secretary of the navy in the Wilson Administration. It is no wonder FDR picked Stimson to be his own Secretary of War several decades later, even though he was in the opposition party. In the 1910s Marshall, then as always, kept his mouth shut while doing so much to get the Army ready for the fighting in France. This was no small task given the sitting start from which A.E.F. began the war. Thirty years later the Manhattan Project would test Marshall’s mettle on an even vaster scale.

Here are the details for Thursday’s discussion should one happen to be in the area.

(image by the U.S. Army Signal Corps, Library of Congress via Wikimedia Commons)


What did WW1 veterans think of their service?

Sergeant York was one of the tens of thousands of doughboys who filled out an MSR reflecting on his experience in the Great War.

Sergeant York was one of the tens of thousands of doughboys who filled out an MSR reflecting on his experience in the Great War.

Last night I finished Edward Gutiérrez’ Doughboys on the Great War. In 2000 Dr. Gutiérrez, now a lecturer at the University of Hartford, began analyzing the Military Service Records (MSRs) that American fighting men filled out upon returning from France. Several dozen states had some version of these questionnaires, though the length and thoroughness of the questioning fluctuated wildly from state to state. Some states had index cards asking for such basic information as name, age, rank, unit, length of service, and current address. Four states–Connecticut, Minnesota, Utah, Virginia–went much further and created a several-page document in which soldiers and marines could discourse more fully on their experience. Many veterans did just that, sharing their impressions of their training, the competence of their officers, their fighting experience, and whatever else they chose to share. According to Gutiérrez–and I see no reason to doubt him–these sources had been sitting pretty much untouched for nearly a century before he began reading them.

Studying the lives of returning soldiers has become a cottage industry over the past few years. Brian Matthew Jordan’s Marching Home: Union Veterans and Their Unending Civil War is one example. This trend should not be surprising given that we have had so many veterans returning from combat in our own time. This is a welcome addition to the scholarship. The crux of Gutiérrez argument is that, while some had difficulty adjusting, for the most part doughboys returned to society quickly and seamlessly. This runs contrary to the narrative articulated by such Lost Generation writers as Hemingway, Fitzgerald and even Faulkner in the 1920s.

Some states followed up in the 1960s and 70s, by which time the veterans were well into middle age. These later accounts differ in that they lack the immediacy of the questionnaires the veterans filled out immediately upon their return from the war. A sourness set in for many in the 1930s, climaxing in the Bonus Army march in Washington. In the 1940s Doughboys noted ruefully that there was no GI Bill for them as there was now for the soldiers returning from the Second World War.

Gutiérrez has written an important book laying out some of the issues faced by the doughboys during and after their service. Hopefully during the centennial additional scholars will explore this topic.

(image/Library of Congress,

Recalling San Diego’s Panama-California Exposition

This calendar year marks the anniversary of one of the lesser known events of the World War One-era: the Panama-California Exposition in San Diego. The purpose of this World’s Fair was to celebrate the opening of the Panama Canal, which had become a reality in August 1914. The fair was in the works going all the way back to the Taft Administration. Who could have known that the Great War would begin at the same time? Needless to say, the ongoing war in Europe changed the tone of the fair. President Woodrow Wilson ceremonially turned on the lights from far off Washington D.C. at midnight on New Years 1915. (A competing fair opened in San Fransisco in February.) There were a number of military exercises over the next several months, including a cavalry review on Lincoln’s Birthday, a troop review of the First Cavalry by dignitaries that included Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt in March, and a coast artillery display in May. The piece de resistance however was  a visit from Theodore Roosevelt that July.

Colonel and Mrs. Roosevelt were in San Diego one hundred years ago this week, having taken a train from Los Angeles. The Roosevelt family were actually old hands at such expositions. Theodore Sr. attended the London Exhibition in 1851 and then helped run the American pavilion at the Vienna Fair in 1873. Theodore’s old sister Anna (Bamie) worked in a women’s auxiliary that coordinated the 1893 Chicago Fair. President Roosevelt spoke at the dedication of the St. Louis Fair in 1903. Given the family’s worldliness, it is easy to understand their interest in these events that once so captured people’s imagination.

Given the historical moment it is not surprising that the Colonel used his speech to rail against Wilson. Remember, this is less than three months after the sinking of the Lusitania.

The clip up top is very short. Watch closely though and you will see Edith tenderly take him by the arm. Here is a slightly longer clip, that alas I could not embed. Again, these newsreels were taken one hundred years ago this week. Okay, here is one more from that same visit to the fair.. You can practically hear him spewing venom. Look closely toward the end. You will see he has a black armband on his right arm. I can’t help but wonder if that was for the victims of the Lusitania. I would love to know the story on the armband.

Deconstructing Alice & Eleanor

Authors Timothy Dwyer (center) and Mark Peyesrer discuss their new book about the relationship between Alice Roosevelt Longworth and Eleanor Roosevelt, 28 July 2015

Authors Timothy Dwyer (center) and Marc Peyser (right) discuss their new book about the relationship between cousins Alice Roosevelt Longworth and Eleanor Roosevelt, 28 July 2015

I just got back from the final public event of the season at Roosevelt House on East 65th Street. This was fortunate because it spared me from having to watch the Deflategate coverage, the avoidance of which is alway a plus but especially now as the sorry episode enters its Baroque phase. Anyways, Roosevelt House saved the best for last by hosting the authors of Hissing Cousins: The Untold Story of Eleanor Roosevelt and Alice Roosevelt Longworth. I have not read their book yet, but if the tonight’s discussion is any indication Marc Peyser and Timothy Dwyer have written the most penetrating account of the relationship between these first cousins.

There was something that brought out the lesser aspects of the two when it came to dealing with one other. Part of it, as the authors and the moderator noted, was the similarities between them. Each were married to spouses who were unfaithful; each had controlling mothers-in-law; and each were cold & indifferent parents but warm & affectionate grandparents. At the same time they were extremely different. Alice was dismissive of Eleanor’s do-goodism for one thing. During the First World War, by which time the two were now women in their 30s, Eleanor and Alice contributed to the effort through the Red Cross. Eleanor was intent on doing all she could for any doughboy in need. Alice eventually gave up, famously claiming a case of canteen elbow. It was a sign of how things would go until Eleanor’s death in 1962.

If you interested in the life and times of the Roosevelts, this one is worth a close look.

Sunday morning coffee

Hey all, it is another early Sunday morning. I am off to Governors Island in a bit.

Today is the final stage of the Tour de France. I liked the way the Tour incorporated elements of WW1 commemoration into some of the racing stages. I hope this continues through 2018. It seems there is so much they could do without impeding on the integrity of the  race itself. One thing that is unique about the Tour is that its course changes year-by-year. It seems that for one thing they could alter the course here and there to visit battlefield sights. This seems to have already happened to a certain extent.

This all got me thinking to past tours, including one that took place at one of the most unique moments in pre-war history: the 1910 funeral of King Edward VII. As you can from the image, most of the European crowned heads-of-state turned out. I once wrote something on the TRB Facebook page about how former president Theodore Roosevelt represented the United States and had a good laugh at the pomposity on display. Still, he did get along with many of these people, including Kaiser Wilhelm II.

These nine rulers are just some of the European royalty who showed up for the funeral of King Edward VII on May 20, 1910. Their striking resemblance is not coincidental; many were related to one another. Less than five years later they would be at war.

These nine rulers are just some of the European royalty who showed up for the funeral of King Edward VII on May 20, 1910. Their striking resemblance is not coincidental; many were related to one another. Less than five years later they would be at war.

It is hard to imagine how Europe would have turned out had the Great War not taken place and many of these monarchs not been deposed.

The Tour de France took place two months later and the winner was Frenchman  Octave Lapize. When the Great War came Lapize became a pilot in the French Army. He was killed on Bastille Day 1917.

July 31, 1910: an exhausted Lapize wins the Tour de France. Note the flowers.

July 31, 1910: an exhausted Lapize wins the Tour de France two months later. Note the flowers.

(Funeral image photographed by W. & D. Downey and Lapize image by Agence Roi from Bibliothèque Nationale de France; both via Wikimedia Commons)


Battling for Lincoln

JJohn Nicolay (seated) and John Hay (right) were best friends who worked selflessly for President Lincoln. After the war they toiled equally hard to craft his image and defend the Unionist perspective of the war.

John Nicolay (seated) and John Hay (right) were best friends who worked selflessly for Abraham Lincoln. After the war they toiled equally hard to craft his legacy and defend the Unionist perspective of the war.

Last night I finished Joshua Zeitz’s Lincoln’s Boys: John Hay, John Nicolay, and the War for Lincoln’s Image and gained a lot from reading it. Zeitz traces the relationship between the 16th president and his two assistants from the time they met prior the Civil War all the way through the early years of the twentieth century when Nicolay (1901) and Hay (1905) died. I have always known the general outline of the story of how the two wrote their mammoth ten-volume Lincoln biography in the 1880s. Zeitz does a good job of capturing the two competing and contradictory impulses at work in the decades immediately after the war. On one hand there was a tendency to deify the martyred president. Republicans couldn’t go wrong waving the bloody shirt. At the same time the Lost Cause narrative was gaining traction in these years, with such figures as Jubal Early laying the foundation for what would prove to be a remarkably resilient narrative about why the war was fought and how it was lost. We’ve seen the dying throes of this narrative play out in the headlines and cable news shows over the past several weeks.

Hay and Nicolay were very much writing against this narrative, though ironically the Lost Cause was being disseminated in the same place at the same time. While The Century was publishing excerpts from the highly anticipated biography, that magazine was also publishing pieces from Battles and Leaders of the Civil War. B&L was drum and bugle history and sought to give both equal time to the Union and the Confederacy, while strenuously avoiding the cause and consequences of the war. One can only imagine what people were thinking when they read these pieces juxtaposed next to one another, which they did for years. Sometimes Hay and Nicolay could be unfair, especially in their rough handling of General McClellan, who they disliked intensely and were determined to excoriate.

Nicolay and Hay both had long successful careers after the Civil War, including stints overseas in important diplomatic positions. Hay wound up U.S. ambassador to the United Kingdom, where he did so much to build the special relationship that served the U.S. and Britain so well during the First World War and then through the twentieth and early twenty first century. He was of course later Secretary of State in the McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt Administrations as well, where he continued his important work.

(image by Alexander Gardner taken in studio in Washington, D.C. on November 8, 1863, less than two weeks prior to the Gettysburg Address; Library of Congress.)

“A public place”

This 1862 photograph shows the construction of Central Park. Note how the soil has been raked and the boulders placed in preparation for the landscaping that would come later.

This 1862 photograph shows the construction of Central Park. Note how the soil has been raked, the boulders placed, and the stone walls laid in preparation for the landscaping that would come later.

This week, in between hacking from the cough I seemingly cannot shake, I have been making progress on the Theodore Roosevelt Senior book. I have been focusing my energies at the moment on the 1850s, when the sectional crisis was intensifying. Many New Yorker had strong Southern sympathies and were ambivalent at best about slavery one way or the other. New York was also a notoriously cramped and squalid place, with its own concerns and provinciality. Ultimately all politics is local and New Yorkers were most concerned about their own increasingly dangerous and crowded streets. Charles Loring Brace founded the Children’s Aid Society in 1853 to combat at least some of the city’s social ills. He and Theodore Roosevelt Senior were active with the Aid Society for decades. The CAS exists today in the 21st century, doing much of the same work it has always done.

On July 21, 1853, around the time Brace founded the Children’s Aid Society, the New York States Assembly passed the enabling legislation for what would eventually become Central Park. Five years later Frederick Law Olmsted and his colleague Calvert Vaux would win the design competition. It is lucky the park was ever finished, its construction coming as it did in the wake of the Panic of 1857 and the onset of the Civil War in 1861.

I say all this because Olmsted and Brace were best friends and shared many ideas about the city. For one thing, both passionately believed in the democratic and redemptive power that open land could have on a city’s populace. One must remember that there were few public parks in Manhattan at this time. It had no garden cemeteries either. Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn had opened in 1838 as much to serve the needs of the living as the dead. Still that was a ways to come with no subways or Brooklyn Bridge to get you there. Thus a communal, public park was crucial for New York City’s future. These things are important to keep in mind when in a place such as Central or Prospect Parks. The tendency is to think they just put a fence around nature when nothing could be further from the truth. These are planned communities in every way.

(image/Rare Book Division, The New York Public Library. “View of the crossing in connection with 8th Ave. and 96th St. October 18, 1862.” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1862.


Harry Vardon, 1870-1937

Best known today for the Vardon Grip, the overlapping technique commonly used today, Harry Vardon won six Open Championship prior to the First World War.

Best known today for his Vardon Grip, the overlapping technique commonly used today, Harry Vardon won six Open Championships prior to the First World War.

Watching Tom Watson finish out at his final British Open on Friday got me thinking about the only man to have won more Open Championships. That would be Harry Vardon, who captured his sixth Open title in June 1914 just prior to the onset of the Great War. (Three others are tied with Watson with five titles.) Vardon is less well-known today than Bobby Jones and Walter Hagen, much like tennis star Tony Wilding is less well-known than Bill Tilden and René Lacoste, but he deserves a better place in our consciousness. I suspect the reason men like these don’t get the credit they deserve is that the world they inhabited was swept away by the cataclysm of the Great War. Figures like Tilden, Lacoste, Jones, and Babe Ruth captured the zeitgeist of the Roaring Twenties and became superstars on a level unimaginable before the war. From the perspective of, say, 1924, everything that happened prior to the assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand must have seemed remote.

Vardon was a poor kid, a gardener’s son, from the island of Jersey. He, James Braid, and John Henry Taylor comprised the Great Triumvirate that ruled golf in the Victorian and Edwardian eras when the game was still centered in the British Isles. Braid and Taylor are two of the men tied with Tom Watson. All of their Open victories, like Vardon’s, came prior to the Great War. (Australian Peter Thomson is the fourth of the golfers with five Open titles, his victories coming in the 1950s and 60s.)

Today no longer part of the Open rotation, Prestwick was the scene of Vardon's 1914 Open victory.

Today no longer part of the Open rotation, Prestwick was the scene of Vardon’s 1914 Open victory.

Signs of change were in the air. The twenty year old American Francis Ouimet famously defeated Vardon in a playoff at the 1913 U.S. Open at The Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts. It was a stunning and very public defeat. Still, Vardon rebounded. When he won at Prestwick in 1914, Ouimet finished well off the leaderboard in 56th place. In June 1914, the very month he won that sixth Open, Vardon was confident enough to pen an article for Everybody’s Magazine titled “What’s Wrong with American Golf?”

When Franz Ferdinand was killed at Sarajevo one week later Europe went on enjoying its golden summer. They played the French Open over the first week of July as if nothing had happened. Vardon finished in second in that tournament. The guns of August inevitably came and when they did the center of golf shifted to the United States. The subtitle of a March 1915 New York Times article captured the moment: “War puts the Game Back in Great Britain—Look to America.” They would not play the British or French Open again until 1920. Vardon and others kept busy, even playing in charity events at the front in Flanders in July 1917.

The Great War crippled British golf, at least for a time. Americans won eleven of the next fourteen Open Championships. The British rebounded during the Depression until the Second World War brought on another golf moratorium. By the late 1940s and early 1950s the transfer was complete. Americans Byron Nelson, Ben Hogan, and Same Snead were the golf world’s new Trio.

(images courtesy of the George Arents Collection, The New York Public Library Digital Collections:

“Harry Vardon.”


The effort to preserve the Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium

The Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium as it is today.

The Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium as it is today.

Since the start of the WW1 centennial there has been a great deal of effort to inventory and/or preserve the roughly 10,000 Great War memorials spread across the United States. One of the most unique is the Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium. Hawaii was a territory in 1917 and would not become a state until 1959. Still, nearly 10,000 Hawaiians fought in World War One, and 101 of them would lose their lives. That is itself a story that someone will hopefully tell over these next few years.

One effort that has been underway for some time is to save the natatorium. Hawaiians opened this memorial in 1927 and used it for decades in ways that reflect its island provenance. Olympian Duke Kahanamoku himself swam and surfed there, as did thousands of other Hawaiians. It eventually fell into disrepair and closed in 1979. Though the natatorium closed, its location is still an active place for memorial ceremonies and other events of the like.

Here is a recent video that depicts the current effort to preserve the natatorium. Note that my sending it does not automatically imply any position on the preservation effort. That is something the people of Hawaii will decide for themselves. It is a story that nonetheless needs to be told.

(image By Waikiki Natatorium [CC BY 2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons)


Quentin Roosevelt lantern slides

One of my favorite things in the Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace is the stereoscope in the family library. Stereography was a major medium until moving imagery rendered it obsolete in the early twentieth century. An even earlier method for conveying imagery was the magic lantern. Magic lanterns date back to the seventeenth century and could even depict the illusion of movement by projecting images drawn on glass slides on to a screen via candle light. When daguerreotypes and film came along in the nineteenth century magic lanterns adapted and thrived. Enthusiasts still practice the craft in its many forms today in the digital age.

I say all this because, in response to a post on the WW1 Centennial Commission Facebook page, Susan Mitchem of the The Salvation Army National Archives in Virginia noted that her repository holds several lantern slides of Quentin Roosevelt’s original resting place in Chambray, France. You may know that Lieutenant Roosevelt was shot down of Bastille Day 1918, the anniversary of which was yesterday. (In the 1950s Quentin was reinterred in Normandy American Cemetery next to his older brother Ted. Quentin Roosevelt is the only soldier of the Great War to be buried in this cemetery overlooking Omaha Beach.)

Ms. Mitchem said she would be interested in sharing the slides and so I contacted her seeking permission to show them here on The Strawfoot. And so, here you go: two lantern slides of Quentin Roosevelt’s original resting place. The Germans buried him with full military honors and, when the Allies re-took this area shortly thereafter, this site became something of a shrine for soldiers and civilians alike. Pilgrimages such as you see here were quite common.

lantern 3

lantern 1

(images courtesy of The Salvation Army Archives)


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