Hallelujiah! Today in History–March 23

handels messiahHandel’s Messiah was performed for the first time in London in 1743.

In the House of Burgesses in Williamsburg, Virginia Patrick Henry declared in 1775:

Patrick Henry Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death

The first Otis passenger elevator was installed in a public building in New York City byotis elevator Elisha Otis in 1857.

battle of kernstownIn 1862, near Winchester at the north end of the Shenandoah Valley, at the Battle of Kernstown VA, Confederate general Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson suffered his only defeat.  He was defeated by Union forces under James Shields.


In 1903, the Wright brothers obtained an airplane patent.  The first flight took place in Kitty Hawk,  NC on December 17, 1903.

wright brother plane


Female spies of WW2

Women served behind the lines as well as the men. Read about these amazing female spies from WWII.

Back On The Rock

The Special Operations Executive (SOE) was set up in 1940 by the Ministry of Defence. Its purpose was simple – to conduct espionage, sabotage and reconnaissance in Occupied Europe. Of necessity, it was a shadowy organisation.

But, after the War, tales emerged of the heroic deeds of those involved. And many of them were women. Here are the brief stories of two of them.

VIRGINIA HALL, the ‘Limping Spy’, was probably the most famous of the SOE women. Born in Baltimore, Maryland, Hall was aged 34 at the outbreak of war. A gifted student, she followed up her US college life by continuing her studies in Europe. She became fluent in the French, Italian and German languages whilst obtaining a diploma in economics and international law.

Following a shooting accident in 1932 her left leg was amputated below the knee. Thereafter she wore a wooden leg. Thus thwarted in…

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The Great Escape–No Americans Were Actually Involved.

The Great Escape🌏😇

Very interesting, especially to those of you who have seen the movie.

untouched for almost seven decades, the tunnel used in the Great Escape has finally been unearthed. The 111-yard passage nicknamed ‘Harry’ by Allied prisoners was  sealed by the Germans after the audacious break-out from the POW camp Stalag Luft III in western Poland. Despite huge interest in the subject, encouraged by the film starring Steve McQueen, the tunnel remained undisturbed over the decades because it was behind the Iron Curtain and the Soviet authorities had no interest in its significance.


But at last British archaeologists have excavated it, and discovered its remarkable secrets.  Many of the bed boards which had been joined together to stop it collapsing were still in position. And the ventilation shaft, ingeniously crafted from used powdered milk containers known as Klim Tins, remained in working order.

Scattered throughout the tunnel, which is 30ft below ground, were bits of old metal buckets, hammers and crowbars which were used to hollow out the route.

A total of 600 prisoners worked on three tunnels at the same time. They were nicknamed Tom, Dick and Harry and were just 2 ft square for most of their length. It was on the night of March 24 and 25, 1944, that 76 Allied airmen escaped through Harry.

Barely a third of the 200 prisoners, many in fake German uniforms and civilian outfits and carrying false identity papers, who were meant to slip away managed to leave before the alarm was raised when escapee number 77 was spotted.


Tunnel vision: A tunnel reconstruction showing the trolley system.

Only three made it back to Britain. Another 50 were executed by firing squad on the orders of Adolf Hitler, who was furious after learning of the breach of security.   In all, 90 boards from bunk beds, 62 tables, 34 chairs and 76 benches, as well as thousands of items including knives, spoons, forks, towels and blankets, were squirreled away by the Allied prisoners to aid the escape plan under the noses of their captors.

 Although the Hollywood movie suggested otherwise, NO  Americans were involved in the operation. Most were British, and the others were from Canada, (all the tunnelers were Canadian personnel with backgrounds in mining) Poland, New Zealand, Australia, and South Africa.

The site of the tunnel, recently excavated by British archaeologistsThe latest dig, over three weeks in August, located the entrance to Harry, which was originally concealed under a stove in Hut 104.

The team also found another tunnel, called George, whose exact position had not been charted. It was never used as the 2,000 prisoners were forced to march to other camps as the Red Army approached in January 1945.

Watching the excavation was Gordie King, 91, an RAF radio operator, who was 140th in line to use Harry and therefore missed out. ‘This brings back such bitter-sweet memories’, he said as he wiped away tears. ‘I’m amazed by what they’ve found.  


Bitter-sweet  memories: Gordie King, 91, made an emotional return to Stalag Luft III.

In a related post:

Many of the recent generations have no true notion of the cost in lives and treasure that were paid for the liberties that we enjoy in this United States 

They also have no idea in respect of the lengths that the “greatest generation” went to in order to preserve those liberties. Below is one true, small and entertaining story regarding those measures that are well worth reading, even if the only thing derived from the story is entertainment.

Escape from WWII POW Camps — starting in 1940, an increasing number of British and Canadian Airmen found themselves as the involuntary guests of the Third Reich, and the Crown was casting about for ways and means to facilitate their escape.

Now obviously, one of the most helpful aids to that end is a useful and accurate map, one showing not only where stuff was, but also showing the locations of ‘safe houses’ where a POW on-the-lam could go for food and shelter.

Paper maps had some real drawbacks — they make a lot of noise when you open and fold them, they wear out rapidly, and if they get wet, they turn into mush. 

Someone in MI-5 (similar to America’s OSS) got the idea of printing escape maps on silk It’s durable, can be scrunched-up into tiny wads and, unfolded as many times as needed and, makes no noise whatsoever.

At that time, there was only one manufacturer in Great Britain that had perfected the technology of printing on silk, and that was John Waddington Ltd. When approached by the government, the firm was only too happy to do its bit for the war effort.

By pure coincidence, Waddington was also the U.K. Licensee for the popular American board game Monopoly. As it happened, ‘games and pastimes’ was a category of item qualified for insertion into ‘CARE packages’, dispatched by the International Red Cross to prisoners of war.

Under the strictest of secrecy, in a securely guarded and inaccessible old workshop on the grounds of Waddington’s, a group of sworn-to-secrecy employees began mass-producing escape maps, keyed to each region of Germany, Italy, and France or wherever Allied POW camps were located. When processed, these maps could be folded into such tiny dots that they would actually fit inside a Monopoly playing piece.

As long as they were at it, the clever workmen at Waddington’s also managed to add

1. A playing token, containing a small magnetic compass

2.  A two-part metal file that could easily be screwed together

3. Useful amounts of genuine high-denomination German, Italian, and French currency, hidden within the piles of Monopoly money!

British and American air crews were advised, before taking off on their first mission, how to identify a ‘rigged’ Monopoly set – by means of a tiny red dot, one cleverly rigged to look like an ordinary printing glitch, located in the corner of the Free Parking square.

Of the estimated 35,000 Allied POWS who successfully escaped, an estimated one-third were aided in their flight by the rigged Monopoly sets. Everyone who did so was sworn to secrecy indefinitely, since the British Government might want to use this highly successful ruse in still another, future war.

The story wasn’t declassified until 2007, when the surviving craftsmen from Waddington’s, as well as the firm itself, were finally honored in a public  ceremony


Vexillogy–The Study of Flags

My friend and shipmate from the USS Midway, Bonnie Brown, introduced me to this term this morning.  She came across it while watching Antiques Roadshow last night.

A man brought in a flag which he said that his father had retrieved at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.  The label on the flag said MI 44 which meant that it was made at Mare Island in 1944.  So the value was about $250.  If they could have authenticated it as being at Pearl Harbor, it would have been $250,000.  When I was doing the search to read a bit more, I came across the Conference on Vexillology — the study of flags.

She sent me an intersting link to a PDF.  Here is the abstract to the PDF in the link.  The article is by Dale Grimes, Jr.

We can learn a lot about flags from the markings that appear on their headers. Diagrams and tables exist that have been created by the military that help to categorize flags by their sizes. Mare Island Naval Shipyard produced thousands of flags over a period of 150 years. Its World War Two flags include distinctive markings that appear on many of the flags in my collection. I have devised a way to calculate a flag’s RIF (Remnant Indicator Formula) which will be shared during this presentation. Information will also be shared about the two flags raised over Iwo Jima that were both made at Mare Island.

The most important flag in the United States is probably the Star Spangled Banner that waved over Ft. McHenry the night it was bombarded by the British 13-14 September4 1814. ( In the picture you can see the difference between the remnant and the origianl size of the flag.)

Ft McHenry Flag

Reblog: Battle of the Bulge Tour

When America thought that the Germans were on the ropes in December 1944, the Germans almost proved them wrong in one last ditch attempt to punch a hole in the Allied lines.  This guest reblog from Discovering Belgium will tell you things about the battle that you probably never knew.  Read on for an excellent tour and photos of the Battle of the Bulge tour via Battle of the Bulge Tour

Winter of ’41

LandscapeTo many of us Winter ’41 probably means Pearl Harbor.  Last December 7th was the 77th anniversary of Pearl Harbor.   Ray Chavez, the oldest Pearl Harbor survivor, passed away peacefully in his sleep on November 20, 2018.  He was from Poway, north of San Diego, California.

President George Herbert Walk Bush, 41st president of the United States, and youngest Navy aviator to serve in World War II, passed away on November 30, 2018.   The last “Greatest Generation” president, he was in marked contrast to what may be the last “Baby boomer” president.  The accolades at his funeral and other memorial services stressed his lifelong service to country despite his patrician background and upbringing.

GHW Bush as president

In the last years of his life, President Bush was asked how he’d like to be remembered. He didn’t pause — and he avoided, as ever, the first-person pronoun, what his mother used to call the “Great I Am” — and replied: “That we put the country first.”

tom bradyForty-one year old Tom Brady is playing in his ninth Super Bowl tomorrow.  He has only won five of them.  The Patriots are predicted to beat the Rams tomorrow in Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta.

The USS Midway (CV-41) Carrier Museum in San Diego is  named after the Battle of Midway, the pivotal battle in the Pacific against the Japanese.  The Midway was the longest serving carrier in the 20th century.  She was christened on 10 September, eight days after World War II ended on September 2, 1945.  For the next 47 years, she served the country including three tours off the coast of Vietnam.  Her pilots shot USS Midway banner.png

down the first and last MiGs during that conflict.  She was the Persian Gulf flagship during Operation Desert Storm, and was decommissioned on April 11, 1992.  She was the first forward deployed carrier, when she pulled into Yokosuka, Japan on October 5, 1972.  Today she is the most successful ship museum in the world.  She was opened to the public in San Diego on June 7, 2004.

Black Jack: Last Army Quartermaster Issued Horse

*Thanks to GP Cox at Pacific Paratrooper for the idea.  His post  today is about Dexter, the Last U.S. Naval Horse.

black jack at kennedy's funeralFor those of us old enough to remember President Kennedy’s funeral, one of many “Kodak” moments was the caparisoned (riderless horse), commemorating a warrior fallen in battle. The beautifully groomed horse with the empty saddle and the reversed boots was Black Jack.  Black Jack was named after General of the Armies, Black Jack Pershing of WWI fame.  He was a coal black, Morgan American Quarterhorse and the last one to  have the U.S. Army brand burned into  his shoulder.

He was born on January 19, 1947 and came to Ft. Myer  in Arlington, Virginia on November 22, 1952 from Ft. Reno, Oklahoma.  In addition to being the riderless horse for the Kennedy funeral, he was also the horse in the funeral for Presidents Hoover and Johnson and General of the Army, Douglas MacArthur.

Black Jack served a 29 year Army career, and was euthanized on February 6, 1976.  His health had declined in his last year and the veterinarian had to get permission  from Department of the Army to euthanize him.  He was cremated and buried on Sumerall Parade Field on Ft. Myer.

His memorial includes the number 3 over  crossed rifles, which is the symbol of the 3rd U.S. Infantry, “The Old Guard”, stationed at Ft Myer, where Black Jack lived.  Caisson platoon was responsible for caring for him and still takes care of the horses used in military funerals at Arlington Cemetary.

black jack's memorial

For more information about Black Jack click here.



Updated Statistics on the USS Midway Library Naval Institute Proceedings Project






OCT 2011 – DEC 2012


















JAN-JUN 2018



JUL-DEC 2018






Pct Completed



Thanks to Phil Eakins for the statistics and to Bonnie Brown, USS Midway Library Lead Librarian for sharing them with me.