The Last Man

50 years ago John Kerry launched his political career by asking: “How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?’ I don’t believe we ever got that man’s name after Vietnam, but we know the names and faces of (hopefully) the last U.S. casualties in our latest lost war. The list of deceased US servicemen, their ages and hometowns.

Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Darin T. Hoover, 31, Salt Lake City, Utah.

Marine Corps Sgt. Johanny Rosariopichardo, 25, Lawrence, Massachusetts.

Marine Corps Sgt. Nicole L. Gee, 23, Sacramento, California.

Marine Corps Cpl. Hunter Lopez, 22, Indio, California.

Marine Corps Cpl. Daegan W. Page, 23, Omaha, Nebraska.

Marine Corps Cpl. Humberto A. Sanchez, 22, Logansport, Indiana

Marine Corps Lance Cpl. David L. Espinoza, 20, of Rio Bravo, Texas

Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Jared M. Schmitz, 20, St. Charles, Missouri.

Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Rylee J. McCollum, 20, Jackson, Wyoming.

Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Dylan R. Merola, 20, Rancho Cucamonga, California.

Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Kareem M. Nikoui, 20, Norco, California.

Navy Hospitalman Maxton W. Soviak, 22, Berlin Heights, Ohio.

Army Staff Sgt. Ryan C. Knauss, 23, Corryton, Tennessee.

Kipling wrote a fitting epitaph, not for these courageous young people but for the fools that sent them into harm’s way and then turned their backs and walked away:

A DEAD STATESMAN

    I could not dig: I dared not rob:
    Therefore I lied to please the mob.
    Now all my lies are proved untrue
    And I must face the men I slew.
    What tale shall serve me here among
    Mine angry and defrauded young?

“And yet it moves.”

A post at Today in History on Galileo Galilei serves as a timely reminder when we are so often told that “the science is settled” or this theory is “disinformation” and that is a baseless “conspiracy theory.” The Inquisitors who sentenced the great astronomer to a lifetime of house arrest are with us yet, and stronger today than in my youth.

‘the judgments of the Lord’

I rose to the defense of Black Jack Logan in an earlier post, but today it’s appropriate to revisit the General John Logan Memorial with an emphasis on the “Memorial” rather than the man whose name it bears. Logan flourishes his country’s flag astride a horse in Chicago’s Grant Park not for his military qualities (he was abler than most of the Union’s generals, but that’s faint praise). His most significant and lasting achievement came in 1868 when as Commander In Chief of the Grand Army of the Republic he called on his fellow veterans to make May 30 a national day of remembrance for their 365,000 comrades who gave their lives to preserve the Union.

They also not coincidentally ended slavery in the “Land of the Free.” Those today who have forgotten the sacrifice that entailed would do well to revisit Lincoln’s Second Inaugural: “Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said ‘the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.'”

Not Constantinople

Coincidental with our own Memorial Day, May 29 marks the 568th anniversary of the fall of the city built by the Caesar Constantine to the Turks in 1453. This Christian disaster, well told by Roger Crowley, extinguished the last flickering embers of the empire that ruled for more than a 1,000 years. By comparison, the Czars ruled Russia for about half that and their successors for scarcely 70, the British lasted perhaps 200, the French on and off for only 60, the Italians and Germans even less. The American Century (from the Spanish-American War to date) has lasted nearly 125. Constantine’s city still stands, but its great church is now a mosque and “you can’t go back to Constantinople, been a long time gone.”

Jed Smith

Another man in Nana’s mold worth remembering: Jedediah Strong Smith. A devout Christian who carried his Bible and a good rifle wherever he ventured, Jed was a double-tough mountain man who fought a wounded grizzly until his comrades arrived to drive the bear off and then calmly directed one of them in piecing back together and sewing up his torn face, scalp and ear. He survived and went on to discover the South Pass, opening the Oregon Trail to the Pacific Northwest. He next led a party of fellow trappers from the Salt Lake down through today’s Utah and across the Mojave to sunny southern California, becoming the first white man to cross that desolate terrain, and then brought the survivors back across the Sierra Nevada, through the Great Basin and back to Missouri. From there he adventured southwest along the new Santa Fe Trail. His luck finally ran out somewhere in today’s southwest Kansas when a party of marauding Comanches spooked his horse and overwhelmed him — but not before he killed three of them. That was 190 years ago today, on May 27, 1831.

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“die like a hero going home.”

“Prepare a noble death song for the day when you go over the great divide.
When it comes your time to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled with the fear of death, so that when their time comes they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way. Sing your death song and die like a hero going home.”
~ Tecumseh

Another very tough old man

My obsession with historic monuments and their cultural significance sidetracked my last post, which turned into a defense of the “Minuteman” statue. But what I set out to do on the anniversary of the opening clashes of the American Revolution was to recall the story of yet another old man in the mold of Nana.

Sam Whittemore fought for the crown in King George’s War (1744-48) and the later French and Indian War (1754-63). He retired a captain of dragoons and settled on a farm in Massachusetts to enjoy his golden years.

He was 80 years old when the King’s men showed up in his dooryard. Humiliated by their repulse at Concord and infuriated by the sniping that was thinning their ranks as they retreated to Boston, the redcoats revenged themselves on the countryside as they went, burning and plundering farms along the line of march and shooting suspected rebels on the spot.

Although far too old to have any obligation to militia service, Captain Whittemore picked up his musket, added a brace of dueling pistols and a cutlass (a souvenir of his service against the French) and went out to contest these outrages. He took his stand behind a stone wall and opened fire on the King’s 47th Regiment of Foot.

He killed one soldier with his musket and then killed another and mortally wounded a third with his pistols as the grenadiers charged the ambush, then fended off their bayonets with his cutlass until shot in the face. As he struggled to regain his feet, the redcoats clubbed him down with their gun butts and bayoneted him on the ground. They left him for dead by the roadside, but when his neighbors came to collect the body they found the old man up on one knee, reloading his musket.

A local doctor could do no more than bandage the captain’s 13 stab wounds and the bullet wound to his head before sadly ordering him carried home so that he might die surrounded by his family. Instead, the tough old soldier recovered and lived another 18 years before dying at age 98. I’d love to see Clint Eastwood play him in the biopic.

That memory may their deed redeem,

Wonder why we struggle to preserve old monuments? Emerson got it:

On this green bank, by this soft stream,

    We set to-day a votive stone;

That memory may their deed redeem,

    When, like our sires, our sons are gone.

Spirit, that made those heroes dare

    To die, and leave their children free,

Bid Time and Nature gently spare

    The shaft we raise to them and thee.

Today’s an anniversary little remembered or honored in history classes where the lessons focus on the sins of our forefathers instead of their virtues. But the clashes at first Lexington and then Concord and back to Boston (the British regulars carried the first but lost the second catastrophically once the Americans learned a hard lesson: the best way to confront a red coat was from behind a bush) were pivotal in the history of the world. When Washington heard the news he wrote: “The once happy and peaceful plains of America are either to be drenched in blood or inhabited by slaves. Sad alternative! But can a virtuous man hesitate in his choice?”

The resolute farmer clutching his musket in one hand and resting the other on a plow was sculpted by Daniel Chester French and cast from the metal of Civil War cannons on the centenary of those first fateful skirmishes of the American Revolution.

The Earth is Weeping

I’ve been a compulsive reader ever since I struggled past the banality of Dick and Jane and discovered the wider world of literature. I’m usually immersed in two or three books at a time, dipping into first one and then the other as my inclination directs. Some books are just too difficult to digest without an occasional divergence into less demanding reading.

One I’m currently struggling with is The Earth is Weeping. Cozzens’ accounts of the Great Sioux War, the Modoc War, the Nez Perce’ anabasis and the Victorio War make painful reading. The courage, self-sacrifice and stubborn determination displayed on both sides of the conflict cannot redeem the cynicism, greed and bureaucratic indifference that precipitated so much bloodshed.