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Posts Tagged ‘oct’

"Shall We Carry On?"

Storming Juno Beach

The drawn-out chronicle of the Normandy adventure continues today as we head toward the Canadian sector at Juno Beach.  Above, our Canadian English/French-speaking guide orients our group to the surrounding sites and touring options on March 12.  Unlike Omaha Beach down the coastline, Juno possesses no imposing bluffs overlooking the shore.  However, the terrain gradually slopes upward as it ascends inland.  The 15,000 Canadians and 9,000 British troops who landed here on June 6, 1944 faced an uphill battle in both a literal and figurative sense.  

In the moments before the landings here, Allied destroyers and gunboats inched their way closer to shore and attempted to rake German defenses with shell and rocket fire.  This concerted effort had few affects on the Nazi defenders other than a psychological toll.  As with other areas of the invasion, Allied artillery overshot their intended targets and largely left Hitler’s Atlantic Wall intact.  When the Canadians reached the water’s edge, they were immediately withered by overwhelming enemy fire at painfully close range.  Sea conditions proved choppy and the beach was soon entangled in a traffic jam of men and vehicles.  Amidst this melee, Lance Corporal Rolph Jackson of the Queen’s Own Rifles was struck as he scurried from his Landing Craft Assault (LCA).  The Toronto native later recalled:

“We got fairly close to the beach, the water didn’t even come up to our hips.  Slightly on our right was a German pillbox.  The pillbox was manned.  There were about thirty men on our landing craft.  I was the eleventh off.  Eight of those first eleven men were killed and two of us were wounded.  I was hit in the hand.  It must have caught me off stride because it knocked me down…. The front of my pants and battledress blouse were [later] shredded [by fragments].  If I had been two inches farther ahead, I would have been killed.”
Jackson was wounded by a German “potato masher” thrown in front of him, a fragment striking his shoulder.  Undaunted by his two injuries, Jackson tossed a hand grenade over the seawall, presumably clearing the way of immediate enemy obstruction.  Not unlike the soldiers of ’44, we too faced some (non-lethal) obstructions of our own amid our travels.

Once more, our journey from our base at Caen to the coast was a long one.  Even though the disastrous snowstorm had ceased, its aftermath continued to wreak havoc on our travel agenda.  Only minutes away from Juno, our large purple bus was pulled over by some misinformed French police officers who told us that bus travel was prohibited because of the recent snowfall.  Even though their information was wrong, how we were supposed to know even if they were correct?  We disregarded their warning and pushed on.

Finally reaching the coast, we visited the Juno Beach Centre and learned of the deeply emotional human drama that took place there sixty-eight years prior.  (So many other museums and sites were closed at this time due to the inclement weather.  Luckily, this place was open because Canadians know how to deal with snow!)  Located in Courseulles-sur-Mer, the museum offers the holistic perspective of the Canadian World War II experience.  Built in 2003, the museum was perhaps the best our group had the pleasure to visit during our pilgrimage.  Venues within the building included a dramatic multimedia presentation of the beach landings as well as intimate, personal artifacts conveying the human tragedy and achievements of D-Day.

One would be wrong, however, to assume that the Normandy Invasion is the sole focus of the Juno Beach Centre.  In fact, a significant portion of the museum places the events of D-Day within the broader scope of the Canadian war effort.  One gallery (styled as a household parlor) features vintage civilian radio broadcasts relating the major events of the war.  Visitors have the opportunity to imagine themselves as family members on the home front as they soak in the good and bad news war presents.

The museum’s dimensions delved not only into the military, economic, and political spheres of Canada in WWII, but also the roles and views of the country’s children in that conflict.  Much like their youthful American neighbors to the south, the younger generations of Canadian society held highly romanticized and mythical perceptions of what the war was.  Tangibles such as wartime jigsaw puzzles, tin cars, cap guns, and cookie cutters relate the patriotic correlation youth had to the global conflict.  As the Canadian War Museum attests, during both World Wars, “Military readers like The Children’s Story of the War or Canada in Flanders apprised young Canadians of the fighting overseas, but gave little sense of the horrific nature of the fighting or the magnitude of the war’s human cost.  Patriotic teachers sometimes encouraged their students to help convince adult males or older brothers to enlist.”  Today, video games such as Call of Duty serve as the 21st century equivalent of these books as society’s disconnect and ambivalence toward war and its realities grow increasingly troublesome.

While the museum’s narrative offers a diverse story, the main focus of the Centre is rightfully the 1944 invasion.  The above helmet belonged to Sergeant George Richard La Croix of the First Candadian Parachute Battalion.  He was perhaps among the first Canadian troops killed in the landings in the early morning hours of June 6 when an enemy bullet struck his helmet.  He was subsequently buried at Saint-Vaast-en-Auge in Calvados.  George’s sister, Marie, remained in the service as a nurse in the Canadian Army.  At war’s end, she returned to the cemetery of her brother’s burial and retrieved his helmet still resting atop his headstone.  La Croix’s helmet and his Canadian Memorial Cross medal were donated to the nearby village in 2000 by his family.  A powerful artifact among many.

This memorial standing outside the Juno Beach Centre may seem unusual to some at first glance.  Upon further investigation, I discovered that the pile of stones is an Inuksuk–a symbol of survival among Canada’s Inuit peoples.  The memorial is to stand as a guide denoting that humans have passed through that place.  This particular Inuksuk was erected in 2005 in remembrance of the First Nations, Metis, and Inuit who served Canada in the Second World War.

Down the pathway from the monument emerged a large, tortoise-like shell from the ground–a German beach fortification.  Circling the bunker partially covered in snow, I discovered the semi-concealed opening and trudged my way up the narrow concrete staircase to its top.  The space was confined, damp, and (bitterly) cold.  The structure was an observation post and contained a radio to allow for thorough communication from one defensive point to the next.  Above me would have been a steel dome to offer protection for the machine gun crew in this tight spot.  One can only imagine the intense volume of an MG-42 being fired from within.

Another unique memorial stands vigil at the water’s edge, one which bears resemblance to an Allied landing craft.  The simplistic monument almost seemed a portal to a different time in the same place.  Indeed, the invasion was revelatory to soldiers and civilians alike at the time as well.  M. Jean Housel, a resident of Courseulles-sur-Mer, saw the Canadians arriving on shore on June 6.  Judging them by their dress, he believed them to be British troops and bellowed out to them in English, “Here they are, the Tommies!”  The Frenchman was greatly surprised to receive the reply, “Je suis Canadian” from one of the young liberators.

Remnants of the Atlantic Wall remain strewn along the coast, including this half-sunk German gun emplacement.  Naturally, such fortifications were deadly obstacles for those wading ashore.  Those men included Lance Corporal Edward Kendall of the 46th Field Surgical Unit of the Royal Army Medical Corps.  Comprising a mobile medical operating unit, he and his comrades came inland on a large supply truck that soon stalled under fire.  Trying to maintain their cool, Kendall and the others jumped out of the vehicle and successfully pushed it up the beach until it started once more.  Their hardship did not end at that moment, as Kendall recalled: “We had been operating when a lot of fireworks were going on outside…. We ducked more or less under the operating table.  [Major J. M. Leggett would] just turn around and say, ‘Gentlemen, shall we carry on?’”

The cement bunker in the background of this original photo stood behind the seawall at the village of Bernieres-sur-Mer and sheltered a 50 mm artillery piece capable of knocking out tanks.  As one can see here, the seawall became a place of refuge both during and after the attack.  Many of the 600 Canadian wounded (as well as German prisoners) awaited evacuation from this point.  But as this photo suggests, not all were as fortunate.  The young individuals draped with blankets were among the 350 Canadians killed on Juno.  Temporary, metal crucifixes dotted the landscape around the beach marking the momentary burial location of these individuals.  One such cross hangs in the Juno Beach Centre, with an excerpt of the Laurence Binyon poem For the Fallen engraved on the wall beside it.  I cannot think of a more appropriate way to conclude this article than to merely reflect on those words:
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.

First Submerged Launching of an A-3 Polaris Missile – 26 Oct 1963

On October 26, 1963,the first submerged launching of the Navy’s 2500 nautical mile A-3 Polaris Missile was successfully made by the gold crew of the USS Andrew Jackson (SSBN-619), commanded by Commander James B. Wilson, USN, from a point some 30 miles off Cape Canaveral, Florida.  A practice warhead was hurled over 2,000 NM down the Atlantic Missile Range to land on target.  The A-3 Missile added 1,000 NM miles to the reach of the Polaris nuclear retaliatory missile system.

Researching the Black Patriots of Rhode Island, 27 Oct.

The W. E. B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard University is hosting a lunchtime colloquium on Wednesday, 27 October, with Prof. Louis Wilson of Smith College on his research project, “Black Patriots in the American Revolutionary War from Rhode Island.”

He describes his project this way:

My project will attempt to reconstruct the personal history of many of the approximately eight hundred previously neglected African Americans and Native Americans who fought in various Rhode Island army units from 1775 to 1783. Using only primary documents, first, I am attempting to identify who these men were, and second to reconstruct many of the men’s personal histories before, during and after the conflict.

Ethnically the men are divided into essentially two groups—Native Americans (Indians) and African Americans (Black, Negro, Mulatto, Mustee and colored). Each served in various Rhode Island army units—local militia, state regiments and the Rhode Island Continental regiments.

I have collected information, often extensive personal information, on many of these men, including birth dates, places of birth, occupations, height, family status, wills, if they were enslaved or free at the time they enlisted, and if their discharge papers were signed by General George Washington.

This event will take place from noon to 1:30 P.M. in the Thompson Room, Barker Center, 12 Quincy Street in Cambridge. A question-and-answer period will follow Wilson’s lecture, and attendees can feel free to bring a lunch.

The picture above shows a black soldier in the Rhode Island regiment, wearing the unit’s distinct uniform and cap, as painted by Jean-Baptiste Antoine de Verger (1762-1851) during the siege of Yorktown. Wilson aims to dig beyond such representations of a type to uncover the individual Rhode Islanders.

Ben Carp at the Old South Meetinghouse, 21 Oct.

I’ve mentioned this before, but at 6:30 P.M. on Thursday, 21 October, Prof. Benjamin Carp of Tufts will be speaking at the Old South Meetinghouse about his new book, Defiance of the Patriots: The Boston Tea Party and the Making of America.

Now if you search at Powell’s online bookstore for titles that include the phrase “Making of America,” you get no fewer than 166 hits. But the Boston Tea Party really was a crucial event in the colonies’ break with Britain. And it’s been a celebrated, symbolically laden event ever since the 1830s, when its memory bubbled back up into our national consciousness.

Almost every American has heard about the Tea Party, especially these days. But relatively few of us, I dare say, would be able to explain why Boston Patriots thought it was so very important to prevent that tea from being landed in North America. Defiance of the Patriots discusses the Tea Party’s local, continental, and worldwide causes and ramifications, and assesses the evidence about which men and boys were involved.

Ben’s spoken before many groups as he’s researched and written this book, including one or two previous appearances at Old South, where Bostonians met to protest the tea tax. But I understand he’s figured out a way to do something fresh for this event. It will be an interview rather than a lecture, with Marty Blatt, historian for the Boston National Historical Park, posing questions—including some submitted from the audience.

So read up on the Tea Party (last week Ben published this op-ed essay in the Wall Street Journal) and bring your questions to the Meetinghouse on Thursday evening.

Thomas Kidd Lecture, Fri, Oct 15, Eastern Nazarene College

Randall Stephens

A note for any of y’all who live near Boston.

FRIDAY, OCTOBER 15, at 3:00pm, Shrader Lecture Hall, Eastern Nazarene College, Quincy, Mass: Thomas S. Kidd (Baylor University), “God of Liberty: A Religious History of the American Revolution.” The Donald S. Metz Lecture in American Christian History.

Thomas Kidd is the author of a variety of books and article on American religion in the colonial and revolutionary eras. His The Great Awakening: The Roots of Evangelical Christianity in Colonial America was published by Yale in 2007. University of Notre Dame historian Mark Noll described the book as “Well researched, clearly written and authoritatively argued. There is no book of comparable breadth, either chronologically or geographically.” Kidd also published The Great Awakening: A Brief History with Documents, with Bedford Books in 2007. His American Christians and Islam: Evangelical Culture and Muslims from the Colonial Period to the Age of Terrorism was published by Princeton University Press in 2008. Walter Russell Mead thus praised American Christians and Islam in Foreign Affairs: “This concise and well-organized study offers readers an excellent summary of American popular attitudes toward Islam from the eighteenth century onward.”

Kidd will be speaking on his new book God of Liberty: A Religious History of the American Revolution (Basic Books, 2010), which Harry Stout described as “a history of religion and the American Revolution that addresses the revolutionary war in substantial detail. Thomas Kidd brilliantly examines the role of religion in the Revolution, and explores the intersection of religion and the Republic, neither of which can be fully understood without reference to the other. Kidd demonstrates in persuasive detail how the idea of religious liberty informed the meaning of the Republic at its deepest level.”

The lecture is part of a series on colonial America. Gordon Wood and Jill Lepore will speak on campus in November.