Category: United States (Page 1 of 21)

11-November

A preface: I became interested in World War One history about 40 years ago, reading Elleston Trevor’s “Bury Him Among Kings,” a novel (undoubtedly my favorite of all time) with a title which referenced an epitaph mentioned below. From around high school on, I’ve read and studied and absorbed (and suffered through college courses) all I could about German history from 1815 to 1945. It’s endlessly fascinating (and disturbingly prophetic) study.

But it’s never really packed a personal punch. While many in our extended families fought in the Civil War, most were too young or too old for the world wars. One exception was our Uncle Louie Webb, who served in World War Two (and how I wish I could ask him about it!) and our Grandpa Pollock’s oldest brother Mearon Edgar, who was born in 1894 and is our father’s namesake. Edgar (as Dad called him) was a World War One veteran and he placed a small ad in the American Legion Magazine of August, 1937: “800th Aero Repair Squadron—Proposed reunion, Los Angeles, Calif., late summer or fall. Mearon E. Pollock, 306 N. Maple dr., Beverly Hills, Calif.” He was apparently the principal organizer of such squadron reunions up until World War Two. After the first war, he and his wife moved to Beverly Hills from Oklahoma. He was a barber with a shop on Wilshire Boulevard; she was a Beverly Hills public school teacher. They later farmed in Oregon and California, where he died around 1977. Interesting stuff, albeit a bit dry. The history of war should never be dry and dusty and divorced from our emotions. It should be as war itself: visceral, devastating, obscene to sight, offensive to smell, deafening to hearing. Hence the following post.

100 years ago today, at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918, the guns along the 440-mile line stretching from Switzerland to the North Sea fell silent. The war started 1 August 1914 just as German Chancellor Otto von Bismark once famously predicted around 1884, by “some damned fool thing in the Balkans;” in this case, the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo, a city of agony in the 20th century). But on 11 November 1918, it was finally “all quiet on the Western Front.”

We remember all this today because as Polish poet Czesław Miłosz wrote, “The living owe it to those who no longer can speak to tell their story for them.”

But sometimes, the living forget those who can no longer speak and instead harness them in service of the political or the feel-good, using their severed limbs to pat ourselves on our collective backs. This rather florid inscription on the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior in Westminster Abbey, London, is an example of how remembrance can often be lofty, nebulous, nameless and faceless and sanitized and ultimately divorced from the nightmare reality of the war and how it was experienced by the men and women caught in it:

“Beneath this stone rests the body of a British warrior, unknown by name or rank, brought from France to lie among the most illustrious of the land and buried here on Armistice Day, 11 Nov: 1920, in the presence of His Majesty King George V, his Ministers of State, the Chiefs of his forces and a vast concourse of the nation. Thus are commemorated the many multitudes who during the Great War of 1914 – 1918 gave the most that Man can give, life itself; for God, for King and country, for loved ones, home and empire, for the sacred cause of justice and the freedom of the world. They buried him among the kings because he had done good toward God and toward his house.”

That was the official, sanitized, God-and-Country pablum version of the war. It’s fine as it goes, but the soldiers of the line saw things quite differently, and epitaphs like these tend to mute them, hide them from sight, rob them of existence.

So what’s a better way to remember then? How about starting with accounts left to us such as the prose and poetry of two British officers and a German soldier. It is their raw experiences which we should remember today, not “George V and his Ministers of State and the Chiefs of his forces” (who botched the entire affair so badly that it became an unprecedented slaughter), nor leaders gathered today at Compiegne, site of the signing of Armistice, nor the American leader shamefully cowering in his hotel in Paris, apparently afraid of rain.

Wrote British Captain Siegfried Sassoon in one of his best, sharpest, brightest harpooning poems of the “Chiefs of His Majesty’s forces”:

The General

“‘Good-morning, good-morning!’ the General said
When we met him last week on our way to the line.
Now the soldiers he smiled at are most of ’em dead,
And we’re cursing his staff for incompetent swine.
‘He’s a cheery old card,’ grunted Harry to Jack
As they slogged up to Arras with rifle and pack.

“But he did for them both by his plan of attack.”

Siegfried Sassoon

British Second Lieutenant Wilfred Owen, who was killed in action just one week before the Armistice was signed, summed up his generation’s experience and wondered who would mourn them in extremely powerful poems:

Anthem for Doomed Youth

“What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
— Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells;
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,—
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

“What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes.
The pallor of girls’ brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.”

Wilfrid Owen

The German Erich Maria Remarque, in “All Quiet on the Western Front,” a book which was later burned by Hitler, added his own voice in prose:

“I am young, I am twenty years old; yet I know nothing of life but despair, death, fear, and fatuous superficiality cast over an abyss of sorrow. I see how peoples are set against one another, and in silence, unknowingly, foolishly, obediently, innocently slay one another.”

“A man cannot realize that above such shattered bodies there are still human faces in which life goes its daily round. And this is only one hospital, a single station; there are hundreds of thousands in Germany, hundreds of thousands in France, hundreds of thousands in Russia. How senseless is everything that can ever be written, done, or thought, when such things are possible. It must be all lies and of no account when the culture of a thousand years could not prevent this stream of blood being poured out, these torture chambers in their hundreds of thousands. A hospital alone shows what war is.”

Erich Maria Remarque

Finally, it’s worth reading what is probably Owens’ finest poem:

Dulce et Decorum Est

“Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs,
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of gas-shells dropping softly behind.

“Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime.—
Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

“In all my dreams before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

“If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: ‘Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.'”

Wilfrid Owen

The old lie: “Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori” roughly translates to “It is sweet and honorable to die for one’s country.” As Owen wrote, dying like cattle in warfare conducted in the cause of nationalism or patriotism is never sweet. It is an obscenity. Just see the attached photos. You should not be squeamish; stare at them and memorize them. If you vote for war, support its waging or cheer for capital punishment, you should be able to look unflinchingly at the black and white images of the consequences of bloodthirst.)

As violent forces of chauvinistic nationalism rise around us, we would do well to remember not Kings and generals, but the experience and judgement of the many Owens, Sassoons and Remarques as the central lesson of this eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 2018.

[Photo: First World War infantrymen whose faces had been mutilated in trench warfare. They were known as the “gueules cassées”.]

Every Building in America, Mapped by the New York Times

Every Building

I’ve always loved maps and could spend hours poring over them. From the old gas station maps at my father’s Malco station in Roswell to Google Earth, there’s always something fascinating in maps and data and all that.

The New York Times recently posted«a map of every building in America» and it’s worth many hours of your time. Awesome stuff! Have a look.

“On this page you will find maps showing almost every building in the United States. Why did we make such a thing? We did it as an opportunity for you to connect with the country’s cities and explore them in detail. To find the familiar, and to discover the unfamiliar. So … look. Every black speck on the map below is a building, reflecting the built legacy of the United States.”

Golden stuff for map/data nerds like me.

Cramped | Photo by Gerrie van der Walt on Unsplash

Squeezed to Death

If you have to evacuate an airliner in a hurry, can you get out of your extremely cramped seat and row fast enough? Probably not. And then you have to dodge all the idiots trying to save all their luggage and personal electronic devices at glacial paces.

But it’s the ever-shrinking seat and row size that will probably be the deadliest problem if there’s a problem with the over-stuffed aluminum tube in which you’re squeezed because most of the country is too damn cheap to pay more than $29 to get from Dubuque to Miami. « At least one editorial » (which was probably ignored and forgotten faster than that flight took to get from Dubuque to Miami) sounded an alarm:

“Given how passengers have grown in inverse proportion to the spaciousness of airliner seats, anything like ‘expeditious’ evacuation of an entire airliner seems doubtful. … Under such constraints, can today’s jets be evacuated in the 90 seconds mandated by the F.A.A.? Not according to passenger advocacy groups like Flyers Rights, which has repeatedly and unsuccessfully petitioned the F.A.A. to use its rule-making authority to stop airlines from shrinking seats and passenger space. Not according to Representatives Peter DeFazio, Democrat of Oregon, and Rick Larsen, Democrat of Washington, who have asked the Transportation Department’s inspector general to investigate F.A.A. safety standards that haven’t been updated in decades. Incredibly, it will require an act of Congress to ensure that the F.A.A. does something, because the agency has denied that seat sizes and body mass index are factors in emergencies. The agency has even denied that it has the authority to regulate airliner seat size.”

The New York Times

As always in this country, it will take a massive tragedy and lots of unnecessarily burned/maimed/dead people before we do something about this. Pity.

Small flame on black background

Atomic Poetry

On 1-Jun-1945, six weeks after the death of Franklin Roosevelt, new U.S. President Harry Truman convened a meeting to update the status on and debate the use of the soon-to-be-born atomic bomb. But first, at the Pentagon, a group consisting of James Byrnes (soon to be Secretary of State), generals George C. Marshall and Leslie Groves, Robert Oppenheimer and Enrico Fermi, among others, convened to make a decision on how to advise the new president on the bomb.

Secretary of War Henry Stimson was also present … and well prepared:

“Stimson was now focused exclusively on the atomic bomb. He had become transfixed by its potential historical impact. He had prepared handwritten notes for these meetings, which curiously read like modernist poetry. The verse was a window into the secretary of war’s state of mind.”

His notes:

Its size and character
We don’t think it mere new weapon
Revolutionary Discovery of Relation of man to universe
Great History Landmark like
Gravitation
Copernican Theory
But, Bids fair infinitely greater, in respect to its
Effect
—on the ordinary affairs of man’s life.
May destroy or perfect International
Civilization
May[be] Frankenstein or means for World Peace

—Secretary of War Henry Stimson | 1-Jun-45
As quoted by A. J. Baime, The Accidental President. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018.

The Accidental President is fascinating reading, while the jury is still out on Stimson’s poetic questions.

Remembering the Past

Remembering Bill Schock on his 100th birthday … and the 52nd anniversary of Braniff 250 in Falls City. Also … feeling old from … time flying and stuff.

Since the AM2431 crash in Durango a few days ago appears to be from weather-related causes, never forgetting the lessons of BN250, as well as CO426, OZ809, EA66, PA759, DL191, and US1016 is as important as ever. Hope today’s flight crews are paying attention.

Warm Summer Night

Terrible quality, but is there anything better than a warm summer night playing in – er, rather sitting near the lawn sprinkler under a street light while watching the 21:00 evening arrivals at KBNA? Well, maybe if I was still 10 …

Posted by Steve Pollock on Monday, June 25, 2018

Photo of Bill Schock

For Bill

Back in 2014, I included a chapter in my book detailing Bill Schock’s war experiences as they related to his reporting on the crash of Braniff International flight 250 in 1966.

The editors at McFarland, rightly but regretfully, suggested I delete the chapter since it was rather tangentially related to the subject, namely “Deadly Turbulence: The Air Safety Lessons of Braniff Flight 250 and Other Airliners, 1959-1966.” (Yeesh, that title.) They wanted 80,000 words; I gave them 96,000, so yeah, some cuts were needed—like the chapter about events which happened in 1966.

But for what it’s worth, in honor of Bill, here’s the deleted chapter. I hope it does him at least some honor.

Farewell, Bill. Thank you.

Update 05:00 26-Jun-18: I revised the chapter to correct a few annoying typos and to add some information, including original source documents for Bill’s war record. Click the link below again to get the revised version. Thanks!]

Read the chapter at this link:
«Deleted Chapter About Bill Schock from Deadly Turbulence by Steve Pollock»

Photo of Bill Schock

A Final “Hangin’ Out the Warsh”

«This is Bill’s final column» out of countless ones he wrote over 71 years for the Falls City Journal.

With this column, he said farewell; the Journal has been sold and moved to a much smaller space in downtown Falls City which it had occupied until 1950.

It’s all extremely symbolic of the state of small-town journalism in the wayward America of the 21st century.

He wrote about one memory that I can personally relate to very much from my time at the Duncan Banner:

“A man came into the office and was pondering over the counter. Finally, he said, ‘I guess I’ll keep on another year. It ain’t the best paper in the world, but it is something to read.’ Another time a man brought an ad in for placement in the Journal and when he was told the price he said, ‘The old man gave me a better price.’ The clerk said, ‘Who’s the old man?’ He said ‘Bill Schock.'”

Falls City Journal

B-17 bomber in blue sky background

More Grief

This is kind of like how I feel about my (possibly four) upcoming surgeries: I don’t want to do this, but I have to, and I hate it.

Received a kind e-mail yesterday telling me of the death of Bill Schock of Falls City, NE, on Thursday evening, six weeks short of his 100th birthday. Cripes, 2018, you’re just not going to let up, are you? This bites very hard.

I’ve written and posted photos and documents here about Bill before. Without him, I would never have finished my first book; in fact, without him, there would have been really no book at all, because his photos and reporting about the crash of Braniff International flight 250 near Falls City in 1966 form the foundation of the book and provide witness to the events of the tragic night of 6-Aug-1966. He very graciously gave, with no expectation of anything in return, photos, archives, notes and the permission to use them.

But more, far, far more than that, he was what most of us can only aspire to be: a man of his generation who played an important part in his country’s fight against global fascism, and an exemplary journalist, the highest ideal of American newspaper reporting. At a time of a resurgence of fascism and a retreat into seeming death of (especially small town) American journalism, this is a particularly hard blow. It was inevitable. But still.

Bill fell last week, suffering cuts and bruises. But his hospital checkup revealed something he had, typically, kept quiet: he had end-stage liver cancer. He died Thursday night.

Also typically, he wrote just a simple six paragraph obituary for himself, leaving out … well, most of his singularly extraordinary life. His grandson fortunately took it in hand and summed up Bill’s amazing life in the «obituary that was actually published here by the funeral home»:

“Bill Schock, a war hero who helped save the world from fascism and a beloved pillar of the Falls City community his entire remarkable life, years ago penned his own obituary and tucked it away for safekeeping. “Papa,” as he was affectionately known by his grandchildren and great-grandchildren the past 50 years, used just six small paragraphs and half a sheet of paper in understating an iconic life worthy of a weighty tome, chapters of which could be mistaken for fiction. Words like “hero,” “beloved,” “pillar,” “remarkable,” and “iconic” were not included, nor even considered. There was no mention of “Bill Schock Blvd.” or the myriad of individual honors and awards earned either professionally, during a 70-year career at The Falls City Journal, or civically, when he served on the City Council, School Board, Hospital Board, Rotary Club, Veteran’s Service Committee and Nebraska Outstate Daily Publishers Association, just to name a few. It read only that “Bill has served on numerous boards.” It was that modesty that helped make Falls City’s love for Bill Schock rival only Bill Schock’s love for Falls City. …”

Dorr and Clark Funeral Home, Falls City, NE

Read the whole thing. Bill’s was a life well-lived, and for many people, including me, “icon” and “hero” are highly appropriate words. I typically don’t like the words “hero” or “heroism;” they’re trite and overused. Just my parents and my husband have always been my “heroes.” Beyond that? Well, I’ve found few that can exhibit real “heroism.” In fact, these days, you’re a hero if you spend a few hours suffering from a hangnail, or put a piece of trash in a garbage bin. Bill however; now there’s someone I can look up to as an actual hero.

He gave in, fortunately for us, to his family’s urging to write a memoir of at least his World War II experience. “Thrills, Chills and a Spill,” is fascinating reading. Very few copies exist, since he apparently didn’t think anyone else would be interested. (!!!!!) I fortunately found a .pdf of it and it’s pretty spellbinding. And very vintage Bill. He ends it with this summing up:

“As we leave Europe and the war behind us, I can’t help but think of the one year, nine months and 22 days spent here in history’s worst war, trying to do my small bit for my country. It sure as heck wasn’t fun and games!
“But like the feller says, I would’t do it again for a billion bucks. And, on the other hand, I wouldn’t take a billion bucks for what I’ve gone through.
“They just have to be the greatest experiences of my life.”

And the book is just one year, nine months and 22 days out of 100 years of his amazing life. The other 98 were exemplary of sacrifice, service and great good fun, from bombing the hell out of German fascists to listening to countless school board meetings. This one is devastating. Heart-breaking. Who can replace his extremely large shoes? I wish I knew.

Farewell, Bill Schock. Sir, we appreciate, thank and salute you, not only for your time in uniform, but also and especially for your long service out of it. You are keenly missed.

That Curtain-y Feeling

That feeling you get when you hang your first curtains in the first house you ever owned? Priceless.

Posted by Steve Pollock on Monday, April 30, 2018

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