I got home at around 8:30 last night after a long day’s work and there waiting in the vestibule was a package from the editor of the Theodore Roosevelt Association Journal. Inside were a dozen copies, hot off the press, of the current edition, containing my article about Ted Roosevelt and his life as a writer and editor. Ted Roosevelt’s literary story begins in 1919 when he arrived home from the Great War aboard the Mauritania and ends just prior to his rejoining the Army to fight again, this time in the Second World War. Really, however, the story is much deeper than that; so many of the clan had a literary bent and he very much fits into that aspect of the family heritage. It was long my goal to get published in the TRA Journal and I cannot express how happy I am with the experience.
The morning air had a crispness to it when I left the house early this morning. Fall is arriving. It was the final day of the Governors Island season. Yours truly had a quiet one. I wrote up the summary of an oral history we did two weeks and then with another volunteer interviewed a husband and wife who lived on the island in the mid 1950s. It is always a humbling experience to speak with individuals who played their roles, whatever those roles may have been, during some of our nation’s most dramatic 20th century events. In recent years we have spoken to Korean and Vietnam War veterans, Cold War intelligence gatherers, Coast Guard photographers who filmed ticker tap parades for the moon landings, and scores of others whose stories are as varied as the people who tell them. My one wish is that I could have spoken to a veteran or two from the Great War. I came along too late for that however. That is why I always appreciate what is there for me to take.
Yesterday’s Doughboy Day at Governors Island National Monument drew over 12,000 visitors, a significant increase over a usual Saturday. Here with some capsule comments are a few images from the day.
While you read these words this Friday morning George King III and his
colleague Jeffrey Klinger are loading George’s ambulance onto a
trailer and heading for Governors Island. It is a circuitous route
that will take the two from Connecticut, through White Plains, NY,
into Manhattan, and finally onto the Governors Island ferry sometime
Ambulance 255 is a 1916 Model T Ford ambulance representative of the
1,200 ambulances donated by Americans and driven by U.S. volunteers in
France prior to America’s entry in World War I. This life-saving work
was carried out by the American Field Service. Join the National Park
Service and World War One Centennial Commission tomorrow at Governors
Island National Monument in New York City tomorrow, September 17, when they host Ambulance 255, the Ebony Doughboys, film historian Neil O’Connor and others in a
commemoration of the First World War.
Images: Long journeys are nothing new for George King III and his
restored Ambulance 255. For six months in summer 2014 he and the
ambulance traveled 10,000 miles through France revisiting the places where
the American Field Service performed its life-saving work. See the
ambulance and meet George and Jeff tomorrow.
(images/contemporary image via George King III; historic image courtesy of the Archives of the American Field Service and AFS Intercultural Programs.
Those who follow the Strawfoot Facebook post in addition to the blog itself have noted that I have been linking to the social media posts I’ve been writing this week in the lead-up to Saturday’s Doughboy Day at Governors Island. Thank you again to everyone at the various institutions who have been graciously posting daily. This morning I wanted to write directly about Saturday’s screening of The Lost Battalion. I met film authority Neil O’Connor at the Hackensack Toy Soldier show and understood immediately that he would be a valuable addition to our commemoration of the Great War centennial. Neil retired from NYNEX several years ago and has since pursued his passion for historic film, founding and directing WUN Enterprises. Neil is based in New Monmouth, New Jersey and keeps a busy schedule speaking at film showings throughout the region. If you will be attending Saturday’s Doughboy Day, please check out Neil in the early afternoon.
The 77th Infantry was known as the Melting Pot Division because its
men came primarily from New York City’s diverse neighborhoods. When a
battalion from that unit was involved in one of the most dramatic
incidents of the war, Hollywood took notice and made a film about the
dramatic episode. The Lost Battalion was released in early July 1919,
thus becoming one of the first on-screen depictions of the Great War.
Join the National Park Service and World War One Centennial Commission
at Governors Island National Monument in New York City this Saturday
when they host film expert Neil O’Connor in an introduction and
screening of The Lost Battalion. The program will be in the Fort Jay
powder magazine. Introduction begins at 12:30 pm and the screening at
approximately 12:45. Running time is seventy (70) minutes.
(image/MacManus Corporation via Wikimedia Commons)
There were definitely more people on the Battery this morning than on a usual Sunday morning. As you might guess most of them were headed for the ceremony at Ground Zero. I had never thought about it this way before, but I found the many other war/conflict monuments in the Battery comforting on this anniversary of the Trade Center attacks. This is where we had the commemoration of the sinking of the Lusitania a year ago this past May.
The flag–the Star Spangled Banner, if I noted correctly–was flying at half staff atop Fort Jay. On my way to Castle William for the 11:30 am tour I had to stop and take this picture (below) of these two apartment buildings. Coast Guard personnel who lived on the island in the late 1960s and early 70s have told me that from their living room and bed room windows they saw the Twin Towers go up incrementally over the years. I could not help but think of that this morning.
I took the afternoon off yesterday to have lunch and hang out with an old friend, an architect who moved away from the city several years ago. Though born here in New York City, his mother is French and he brings a strong strong European perspective to his worldview. We got to talking about The Beatles and how through some force–coincidence?, luck?, divine intervention?–their rise coincided with the transition from Austerity Britain to Swinging London. In the grander scheme of things Britain’s transformation was a process that began in 1914 in the chaos and destruction of the Great War and ended with Britain bankrupt and stripped of its empire in the wake of the Second World War. I often tell my students that history is all around them if they care to look. This morning, relaxing with my coffee, and came across this trailer for a 2013 British film called How We Used to Live, which I had never heard of before.
I’m having my morning coffee this Labor Day Monday. It appears that the tropical storm that had been heading our way has veered off and left us with a nice day. I’m staying close to the house today, preparing for the semester ahead and attending to a few other tasks. There is so much to get done in the coming weeks; it’s nice to have a day to regroup a bit.
I came across and thought I’d share this Brooklyn Daily Eagle page from Labor Day Weekend 1916. Like now the United States was then in the middle of a presidential election, with the incumbent Wilson running against Charles Evans Hughes on the motto that he had kept us out of war. What struck me about the newspaper one sees here is that Fall 2016 was very much America’s Last Autumn, much in the way that 1914 was Europe’s Last Summer. A difference would be that for Europeans the guns of August came entirely out of the blue, whereas American two years later were cognizant of the stakes and potentiality of their involvement in the war. That’s what makes the newspaper here so striking. I won’t run down the headlines because one can read them readily enough, but it is fascinating to see what Americans, or at least New Yorkers, were thinking about during their Labor Day holiday one hundred years ago.
(image/Brooklyn Daily Eagle)
After class today I was following up on some leads that will hopefully carry over into the next few class meetings. I was searching the Brooklyn Daily Eagle database when I came across an article about one William Patton Griffith. This led me to a search engine to find out more about the man. And that is where, among other things, I came across the photo you see here. It is the front and back of the same image. Griffith fought in the Civil War and was in his 90s when he finally died in the 1930s. Like many veterans he was actively engaged in veteran and civic affairs throughout his adult life; in his final years he was brought out for public engagements, one of those aged Civil War veteran whose symbolic power at Decoration Days and Fourths of July rested in that he survived anachronistically into the mid twentieth century. How in the 1920s or 1930s, in the wake of the Great War, the Roaring Twenties and Great Depression, could one not have been moved to meet a survivor of Gettysburg, Pea Ridge, or the Peninsula Campaign?
It is a striking images. He exudes the appearance of a man nearing the end of his life seemingly content that he has accomplished what had set out to achieve. What struck me too was his job title: patriotic instructor. Some very rudimentary digging indicated that this was a formal position within the Grand Army of the Republic, of which Griffith was a long and active member. It is tempting to scoff at such a thing, but as the saying goes the past is a foreign country and they do things differently there. I intend to talk more about Griffith in class next Tuesday.
(images/New York State Archives, Grand Army of the Republic records)
I had the opportunity this past weekend to spend some time with the official historian of a particular American military unit. This is an outfit that stretches back to the mid-nineteenth century and has fought in most of America’s engagements since that time. No longer active duty, this individual traces his time with the outfit back to the early 1970s. During our conversation he mentioned the unit’s annual dinners, which he has attended going back to his days as a young, active duty officer. I asked him if at these annual gatherings he ever had the opportunity to meet and talk with any of the Great War veterans who had worn the regiment’s insignia in 1917-18. He lit up when I asked and said that indeed he had. These WW1 veterans would have been in their mid 70s at the time.
The historian filled in a few anecdotes before noting ruefully that while he had indeed made these men’s acquaintance, he did not engage with them as extensively as would have liked today. Now those doughboys are all gone. Of course he was not the unit historian at that time, but a young, Vietnam-era officer with much on his mind. Today as the unit historian he has made certain to record and preserve all he can about the rapidly fading WW2 veterans. In just a few years they too will be all gone.
(image/Visitor7 via Wikimedia Commons)