One Farm Boy’s Experience Aboard USS Guadalcanal


Glenn Larson was a 19-year-old North Dakota farm boy when the United States entered World War II. He volunteered for the U.S. Navy in December 1942. He could have gotten an agricultural deferment, but wanted to serve. Later, he was aboard the USS Guadalcanal when it captured the U-505 German submarine.

“A World War Two Secret: Glenn P. Larson and the U-505” by Beverly Larson Christensen tells his story. Larson participated in the capture of the first enemy warship taken on the high seas by the U.S. Navy since the War of 1812.

Christensen gives a picture of her father growing up on the family farm. She recounts Larsen’s naval career when he joined up: boot camp in Idaho, training as an electrician, assignment to the Guadalcanal when not yet in commission, and how Larson became part of the submarine’s capture.

A GI View of the News


When World War II started newspapers and magazines were at a zenith in American culture. US military leaders, including George C. Marshall, decided the Army needed its own newspapers and magazines to inform troops. Surprisingly, they gave the GIs running the publications a remarkable freedom to report as they saw fit.

“The War of Words: How America’s GI Journalists Battled Censorship and Propaganda to Help Win World War II,” by Molly Guptill Manning, tells the story of the GI press in World War II. It shows they were a weapon leading to US victory as much as the tanks and artillery wielded by the GIs.

Manning makes Marshall the champion of the GI newspaper.  She also shows why. Marshall understood morale’s importance. He believed keeping GIs uninformed, with no place to gripe, contributed to low morale.  The book shows how and why Roosevelt supported Marshall. She shows how the Nazis harnessed propaganda to further their efforts. Marshall and Roosevelt believed a patriotic free press within the US military would counter that.

Happy Birthday to the United States Marine Corps


On this day, 248 years ago, the United States Marine Corps was created by an act of the Continental Congress, the subcommittee then meeting in Tun Tavern, Philadelphia.

Resolved, That two Battalions of Marines be raised, consisting of one Colonel, two Lieutenant Colonels, two Majors, and other officers as usual in other regiments; and that they consist of an equal number of privates with other battalions; that particular care be taken, that no person be appointed to office, or enlisted into said Battalions, but such as are good seamen, or so acquainted with maritime affairs as to be able to serve to advantage by sea when required;  that they be enlisted and commissioned to serve for and during the present war between Great Britain and the colonies, unless dismissed by order of Congress: that they be distinguished by the names of the first and second battalions of American Marines, that they be considered as part of the number which the continental Army before Boston is ordered to consist of.

Exploring the Arctic for Fame and Headlines


Before reality television, people satisfied the urge to see new places and do new things by reading about the exploits of risk-takers, including explorers. Before the internet or radio, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the way to do that was through the newspaper.

Back then, the modern mass-market daily newspaper was still new.

In “Battle of Ink and Ice: A Sensational Story of New Barons, North Pole Explorers, and the Making of Modern Media,” Darrell Hartman threads together two themes: the rivalry between New York City’s major newspapers and polar exploration.

PT 658, Some Sanity in Portlandia


PT 658 is one of two fully operational PT boats in the United States. The second is PT 305, located in New Orleans, and spare parts from PT 658 were used in the restoration of PT 305.

In 1993, she was donated by the late owner’s estate to the veterans of Save the PT Boat, Inc. of Portland, Oregon. PT-658 was transported from Alameda to Portland in May 1994 by the 144th Transportation Unit of the Washington National Guard on the deck of the U.S. Army Logistics Support Vessel General Brehon B. Somervell (LSV-3). – from Wikipedia

When the Earth Moved


In April 1906 San Francisco was “the Queen City of the Pacific,” the largest city in California and the busiest port on North America’s Pacific Coast. It was a city of superlatives, most banks, best entertainment, richest rich, and greatest ethnic diversity. Then the earth moved and San Francisco lay in ruins.

“The Longest Minute: The Great San Francisco Earthquake and Fire of 1906,” by Matthew J. Davenport, tell the story of the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake. It describes the pre-earthquake city and how it became what it was. It then recounts the events of the earthquake and what followed in the immediate aftermath.

Davenport takes readers into the ethnically-diverse streets of San Francisco of the late 1800s and the first half-decade of the 20th century. Readers visit Chinatown, the Italian, Russian, and Mexican enclaves in the city and the homes of the very rich and very poor.  He shows how San Francisco grew from an obscure Mexican town to the economic dynamo of the West Coast. He shows how rapid growth created a town ripe for disaster. Poorly-built, crowded buildings were common. Infrastructure was neglected. Much of what existed was shoddy.

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The first three phases of the Mexican Revolution were (1) dump Díaz, (2) dump Madero, and (3) all the other phases, starting with dump Huerta. What separated #2 and #3 was, in the capital itself, the Ten Tragic Days. Those were violent…but after them, the contests were mostly in the countryside. From then on, Mexico […]

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Norm-Breaking Ancient Ships


During his reign, the Emperor Caligula built two massive barges on Lake Nemi. Almost immediately after his assassination, they sank. The boats fascinated posterity. Starting in the 15th century, efforts began to refloat them. Four centuries later, Mussolini succeeded. A museum by the lake displayed them. In 1944, the retreating Nazis burned both the museum and ships.

“From Caligula to the Nazis: The Nemi Ships in Diana’s Sanctuary,” by John M. McManamon, SJ, tells the full story of these ships, from their creation in Early Imperial Rome to their destruction in World War II.

He opens with the destruction of ships in May 1944. McManamon makes it clear the Germans deliberately set fire to the museum containing the ships, despite postwar denials. This act of historical vandalism was triggered by German pique at their former Italian allies. It served no military purpose.

Anatomy of a Failure


In 1918 the British Army was at a peak. In a hundred-day campaign, it shoved the German Army almost back to the German border – not through German exhaustion, but by outfighting and outmaneuvering them. By 1940, it abandoned World War I’s hard-earned lessons, deteriorating into the worst army of any major power.

“Victory to Defeat: The British Army 1918-40,” by Richard Dannatt and Robert Lyman traces this collapse, examining the reasons behind it.

The authors open describing how the 1918 British Army developed combined-arms tactics that peeled German defensive lines apart like rotted cardboard. Artillery, tanks, and aircraft played a role, but infantry armed with light machine guns and rifle grenades did the real work.

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It may be a distinctly Latin American practice. Or so I guessed after crossing, or seeing, Avenida 9 de Julio in Buenos Aires. Dates that are day-month only. I’m not sure where Avenida de Mayo, also in Buenos Aires, fits in. I think for that one, we really do need to know the year. I […]

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Out of the Mouths of Vietnam War Veterans


My junior year in high school, we studied American History.  My teacher was a fully committed liberal democrat in her politics; but when it came to teaching, I had to admit she was as fair and balanced as they came.  She was deeply committed to having us learn from as many primary sources as possible.  So, in addition to the textbook, we studied newspaper articles and photographs from the different eras, literature written at the time, the full immersive experience. 

When it came to studying the Vietnam War, we looked at it from all angles: military, political, the reaction on the home front, the draft pros and cons, fighting conditions, use of nuclear power and other fighting strategies and their effects, as well as where and how and why we got involved in the first place.  For the final lesson, she always invited a group of about ten Vietnam War veterans from the local veteran’s hospital in Palo Alto to visit the class and answer questions about their experience.  Before they arrived, she cautioned us all to be tactful in our questioning.  These men had been through unspeakable trauma and the wrong question could trigger highly emotional responses.  

J.R.R. Tolkien’s masterwork The Lord of the Rings delighted so many of us as children, yet it and its vast body of accompanying work, such as the Silmarillion, contain a rich depth not well understood by most adults. Tolkien’s work reflects his academic interests in the history of language and the Medieval world, as well as his Catholic faith. What purpose and religious message does his writing contain? Does his work carry a political meaning?

Here to discuss is Professor Rachel Fulton Brown, Associate Professor of Medieval History at the University of Chicago. In addition to her work on the history of Christianity, medieval liturgy, and the cult of the Virgin Mary, she teaches a popular course “Tolkien: Medieval and Modern,” and has a series of lectures and writings mining the depths of Tolkien’s thought and writing.

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4,300 Notre Dame alums and students signed a letter protesting the invitation to President Joe Biden to deliver the Commencement speech to the graduating class of 2021. Like any other university campus Notre Dame has some students and professors that have succumbed to and wish to act on the tyranny of popular opinion. Preview Open

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I was deeply touched to see the image of the Twin Towers and the words “Never Forget” at the top of the Ricochet Main Feed. And I was deeply offended and disappointed that neither the Wall Street Journal nor the Orlando Sentinel had mention of 9/11 on their front pages, and from what I could […]

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Where No American Woman Had Gone Before


In 1978, NASA selected 35 new astronauts. Among them were the first six women picked as astronaut candidates: Sally Ride, Judith Resnick, Anna Fisher, Kathy Sullivan, Shannon Lucid, and Rhea Seddon.

“The Six: The Untold Story of America’s First Women Astronauts,” by Loren Grush, tells their story. It relates the opening years of the Space Shuttle program.

Their arrival marked a new era at NASA, the end of the test pilot era and the start of a new age in spaceflight. Using the Space Shuttle access to space, NASA claimed, would become as routine as airline travel. This included women in the astronaut pool.

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I remember watching Swamp Fox; Davy Crockett; Daniel Boone.  But mostly I read. I read Drums Along the Mohawk; Rabble in Arms. Then there was Baa Baa, Black Sheep;  The Caine Mutiny;  Away All Boats; Battle Cry. I’m guessing those things had an impact quite different from what kids read/watch today. Preview Open

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