Sunday, April 14, 2013
Philippines, Summer 1945:
The great nations of the world have waged terrible war for more than five years, but my grandfather is still a young man, eager and fresh-eyed, ready for anything. He tried to join the Army the day after Pearl Harbor, but the Lieutenant at the New Haven recruiting station told him to wait--the war would still be raging when he graduated from college. The Lieutenant would eventually be proven wrong. Classes at Yale were cancelled in 1944.
Now, he is halfway around the globe, 15,000 feet above Manila Bay. The sleek silver lines of his C-47 slice through the tropical breeze while the twin turbocharged 14-cylinder engines split the air with a deafening roar. A platoon of soldiers is in the back, passing time on the first leg of a long journey home. Some of the men are sleeping; others listen to Tokyo Rose on a shortwave radio and play cards.
They are bound for Leyte, where transport ships are waiting to rotate out the victorious beachstormers for a little R&R back in the states. Even as they fly over the remaining pockets of Japanese-held territory, thoughts of war and slaughter are already receding into memory, rarely to be spoken of in the presence of those who were never there. One of the men is re-reading a letter from his girlfriend for the 100th time--she has accepted his marriage proposal.
My grandfather is looking out the side window at a fishing junk trawling the gentle turquoise-green waters when suddenly the pilot shouts out, "FIRE! Engine One!" Thoughts racing, he remembers the technical briefing he had taken only two days earlier as he lunges up from his seat and into the main compartment. Counter to every instinct, he screams above the roar of the engines and frantically pulls the crew chief's hands away from the bright red handle with the neatly stenciled letters "CO2 EXTINGUISHER."
Although words only come out in blurts and sputters, the message is received loud and clear. The crew chief backs down. My grandfather would later explain that the extinguisher is not designed to put out an engine fire; it only has 15 seconds worth of carbon dioxide, not nearly enough to smother such a large blaze. Instead, the situation now slightly calmer, my grandfather returns to the cockpit to assist the pilot with the still burning engine.
They must first cut out the burning engine to stop the supply of gasoline. My grandfather takes the controls, struggling to keep the plane level on only one engine. Meanwhile, the pilot is busy watching fuel and temperatures gauges--the magic number is 495 degrees Fahrenheit, the ignition point. Unless the engine cools below this temperature, it will catch fire when the fuel starts flowing again. Everybody on board holds his breath, hoping the fuel will stop leaking--nobody wants to crash-land behind enemy lines on the trip home.
Agonizingly tense minutes pass by, the intensity mounting and magnified by the stifling equatorial sun. Each man privately wonders if the remaining engine will sputter out, sending them all violently earthward. The shortwave radio is no longer playing. The soldiers in the main compartment are staring holes through the cockpit bulkhead as if they can see the pilot, perhaps to discern by some imperceptible sign a change in his expression that will signal their deliverance. The roar of the engine is the only sound. It is the sound of life.
Suddenly, the plane shudders as my grandfather wrestles with the controls. The second engine is spinning up as the pilot gently eases the throttle all the way forward. The men erupt in cheers, not knowing that the plane is still in danger. If they keep flying, the joint in the engine will heat back up and start leaking again. Partly to avoid attracting unwanted attention from the Japanese and partly to avoid frightening the soldiers, my grandfather does not signal mayday.
As the pilot scans the area looking for a safe place to land, a slash of white in the jungle catches his eye. My grandfather is now busy with maps of the area, but this airstrip is not marked. His maps are a few weeks old. He fixes their general position based on the features of the nearby shoreline and a nearby town. The airstrip is in newly captured territory. The Seabees have finished their work just in time.
Maintaining radio silence, they begin to circle around for landing. The pilot attempts to lower the landing gear, but only one wheel comes down. The fire has damaged the starboard wing more than they first realized. The electrical wiring and hydraulics are completely out of commission. My grandfather signals to the pilot to circle back around for another attempt. This time the crew chief will have to manually lower the jammed landing gear.
The silver fuselage sparkles in the sun as the plane banks in a great sweeping arc in the sky. To an observer on the ground, it must look like some futuristic, metallic bird of prey, circling for the kill. Inside the bird's aluminum belly, the crew chief is frantically cranking away with a small wrench, but the landing gear doesn't budge an inch. To make matters worse, the port landing gear will not retract either. It will be a rough landing.
The crew chief commands all aboard to brace themselves as the pilot circles around one last time, they will only get one chance now, they've lost too much altitude. As they level off, my grandfather sees construction equipment sitting on the side of the runway. The plane buffets as the pilot narrowly misses a row of telephone wires and then they come smoothly down until the plane is just above the runway. "This is it! Brace for landing!"
In the next instant, there is a sound of crunching and grating metal. Just as the lone wheel rips into the concrete, the left wing hurtles sideways towards the ground and starts to drag. Both my grandfather and the pilot muster every last bit of strength to keep the plane from spinning out of control into the line of bulldozers. Without hydraulics, they only just manage to keep on a more or less straight path down the runway. The smell of gasoline and burning rubber fills the air.
When the plane finally comes to rest, every man runs like hell to get away from the mangled wreckage. With hundreds of gallons of gasoline everywhere, the slightest spark would spell the end of anybody unfortunate enough to be within fifty yards of the ensuing explosion. My grandfather is one of the last to jump clear of the wrecked plane. The plane is tilted crazily and the cockpit door is 15 feet above the ground, but he manages to roll into the ground and run to safety.
My grandfather finally stops to catch his breath and before he can even turn to survey the damage to his plane, he sees a Jeep driving up from the small encampment on the edge of the jungle clearing. He quickly realizes this is a Colonel with his driver, and jerks his body to attention only to be painfully reminded how badly he is bruised from the crash. The Colonel dismounts and storms up to my grandfather asking, "are you the pilot?!" My grandfather politely responds in the negative.
"You should have ditched in the bay! We just finished construction here, the General is on his way for an inspection, and you just put a big old scratch on my runway!" In reply, my grandfather would like to inform the Colonel on the exact probability of success of a water landing with this particular model of airplane, which is to say, zero. Instead, he manages an obviously strained, "yes, sir." Despite my grandfather's having just saved the lives of the flight crew and a whole platoon, the Colonel mutters a few oaths under his breath and then storms off to his Jeep and speeds away.
It will be a long wait until another plane can come to transport my grandfather and his passengers to Leyte and even longer until my grandfather will see the shores of California again. Despite the Colonel's poor assessment of his flying skills, my grandfather will soon be promoted to a special detail, flying the top Army brass back and forth between forward bases, always flying over enemy territory.
Meanwhile, the whole might of the American military prepares for the last invasion: Japan itself. My grandfather even trains to lead the first wing of paratroopers on X-Day, as it's called, but after the atomic bomb brings the war to an early end, he will instead spend two years with the occupation force before he finally returns home to complete his studies at Yale.
Nearly 70 years after these exploits, William James Gardner passed away on a Sunday evening in April. This story was only one of many, most of which we will never know. In the last years of his life, my grandmother placed a framed box of his war medals next to his bed, but like most of his generation, he spoke little of those days when the "whole world went crazy" as my grandmother once put it. He goes now to be reunited with so many brothers in arms who were called home all those years ago, every one of them covered with glory defending the nation that they loved so dearly.
Tuesday, April 2, 2013
To follow up from the previous entry in these pages, the Prolix Patriot and family are settling into their new home and have experienced firsthand the joys of living in a historic urban neighborhood. Every yard is full of archaeological evidence (i.e., dead people's trash). In our case, there are countless little shards of colored glass all around the yard right on the surface. With the arrival of warmer weather and more extensive landscaping projects, there’s no telling what other discoveries we will make.
A search of property records reveals that the glazier who left behind these tiny pieces of history was a certain Ludwig Von Gerichten who was born in 1873 in Hesse in the newly-formed German Empire. It's unclear when he emigrated to the United States, but sometime in the 1890's, Ludwig and his brother Theodore had settled in Columbus, Ohio and founded the Von Gerichten Art Glass Company.
More than 850 churches in the United States have windows that were made by hand at the Von Gerichten glassworks. One such example is the old Trinity Lutheran Church and another example is the now-defunct St. Leo Parish, where Ludwig himself was probably a parishioner. According to one source, the brothers parted ways and the company was dissolved in 1931. Their factory--which was a work of art in its own right--was eventually demolished in the 1960's to make way for the Interstate Highway System.
The end of the Von Gerichten Art Glass Company was not the only tragedy in Ludwig’s life. Some years before that, his wife Katherine died and records indicate that he sold his house and traveled between his glass studios in Europe and the United States. Today, they are both buried in Greenlawn Cemetery, reunited more than 30 years after Katherine passed away much too young.
However, the legacy of the Von Gerichten brothers lives on. The Franklin Art Glass Company was co-founded in 1924 by the son of the shop foreman of the Von Gerichten glassworks, Henry Helf, and is located just a few blocks from where the old Von Gerichten factory once stood. The Franklin Art Glass Company still makes and repairs stained glass windows in the Old World tradition to this very day.
Monday, February 25, 2013
The Prolix Patriot believes that the future of conservatism will depend on restoring and rebuilding our cities after decades of liberal decay and neglect, so he and the Missus purchased a house in the city to put his money where his mouth is, as it were. For the first time in the history of the world, more people live in cities than do not. If conservatism is to remain a vital force in our civilization, we must bring our values back to the cities and our core institutions.
There are many obstacles to this project of course. In a map of precinct-level election returns, cities are the deepest of deep blue islands even in states that as a whole lean solidly to the right. Municipal elections are settled in Democratic primaries and the November elections might as well be like the Soviet Union where the only answer is "Yes." This is an unlikely place to look for conservative values. Living in the city is a decidedly counter-cultural proposition for us, especially when trying to have a large family.
However, because of this, conservatives in cities know the value of community perhaps more acutely than their liberal neighbors. Whereas for liberals the many boards and committees of municipal government provide numerous opportunities for civic involvement, for conservatives the first unit of organization (after the family of course) is the parish, and unsurprisingly, the most vibrant and conservative parish in Columbus is in the heart of the city, not at its periphery.
Fortified by communities of faith and family, conservatives are better prepared to engage with people of differing opinions instead of succumbing to the liberal tendency towards oikophobia. As conservatives, we can highlight the things that we do have in common with liberals without completely surrendering to radicalism. That said, instead of seeking to find common cause where none exists, we must use every opportunity to encourage our liberal neighbors to rethink their attitudes about conservatism—and perhaps even join our cause.
As one example, conservatives can demonstrate that conservation of nature (as opposed to radical environmentalism) is best achieved by making cities a desirable place to live instead of punishing people for the economically rational decision to live in the outer suburbs. As another example, horrible schools deter families from living in the city. Groups like Southside STAY in Columbus recognize this problem. Conservatives should emphasize our commitment to school choice and teacher accountability as the means to restore urban schools and make it easier for large families to thrive.
Many years ago, the Prolix Patriot wrote a letter to the editor of the Wall Street Journal defending the importance of cities even in an age where technology makes it easier to communicate across vast distances and sprawling infrastructure provides relatively quick access from the countryside to the urban core and vice-versa. These advances are wonderful in some ways but they also have their drawbacks, and they can never replace the value of proximity that nurtures and sustains communities and our society as a whole.
Conservatives recognize that human nature does not change. Instead of the Bloombergian nanny-state which tries to force people to live according to the latest fad, we recognize that the way to change behavior is by setting a good example ourselves and by providing incentives for others to do the right thing. It will take much time and effort to repair the damage (both physical and spiritual) that liberalism has inflicted on our cities over the past 50 years, but if we do not commit ourselves to the task, we cannot complain about the decaying and degraded society that our children will inherit.
Thursday, January 31, 2013
Sports writers have spilled more than enough ink writing about the strange coincidence that regardless of which team wins Super Bowl XLVII this weekend, it will be coached by a man named Harbaugh. Instead of dwelling on this piece of sports trivia, we will instead turn our attention to some other strange similarities between the two cities that the competing teams call home.
Both Baltimore and San Francisco are historic seaports due to their prime locations on a natural harbor. Baltimore is just upriver from the Chesapeake Bay in the East while San Francisco is forms one side of the mouth of the eponymous San Francisco Bay. As a result of their proximity to the two largest estuaries in the country, both cities have excellent seafood. The specialty in Baltimore is of course the crab cake while San Francisco is known as the birthplace of cioppino which was created by the large numbers of Italian fishermen who settled in San Francisco during the 19th Century. Speaking of Italians, it is also notable that former Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi was born in Baltimore where her father was Mayor but now represents San Francisco in Congress and is the first woman and the first Italian-American to serve as Speaker of the House.
Depending on where you're from, the term "Bay Bridge" may have a different meaning. In California, the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge is infamous for having partially collapsed during game three of the 1989 World Series and is in the process of being replaced to avoid a repeat performance. In the Mid-Atlantic region, the Chesapeake Bay Bridge is equally infamous as a constant source of traffic delays, numerous fatal accidents, and persistent structural problems. Both are suspension bridges and prior to 1964, both bridges carried U.S. Route 50 from sea to shining sea, although today Route 50's western terminus is now in Sacramento. The wise should avoid both bridges during the big game, just to be safe.
In addition to these geographic similarities, the cities are associated two of America's greatest men of letters. Edgar Allan Poe, who has been called the father of detective fiction and the master of the macabre, died in 1849 at the age of 40 under strange circumstances in Baltimore. The Balitmore Ravens are of course named after Poe's most famous poem. In keeping with the pervasive succession of tragedies in Poe's short life, he was paid only $9 for its publication. The year of Poe's death was also the height of the gold rush that gives the "Forty-niners" their name and some 15 years later, a young journalist and jack-of-all-trades named Samuel Clemens moved to San Francisco after having failed as a gold prospector. It was during this time that Clemens wrote a short story titled, "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County" under his pen name, "Mark Twain." This was his first major success and marked the start of a very long and brilliant career.
Despite these many similarities, "The City by the Bay" has always been more appealing in the public imagination than the so-called "Charm City." San Francisco conjures up images of flower-clad hippies, quaint cable cars, and the yeasty aroma of fresh-baked sourdough bread. Meanwhile, the biggest claims to fame for the city of Baltimore are a crime melodrama called "The Wire" and a show about cakes that don't look like cake. Even though it has been nicknamed "Fog City," most outsiders think of San Francisco as a sunny and cheerful place--which is most certainly is not. As Mark Twain famously never said, "The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco." On the other hand, Baltimore's reputation as a gritty post-industrial wasteland is thoroughly well-deserved.
Perhaps this explains the map above. A survey of Facebook users' personal preferences shows that the San Francisco Forty-niners are the clear fan favorite this weekend while the Ravens enjoy only slim support along the Eastern Seaboard. Indeed, the only states which are solidly rooting for the Ravens are Maryland and Delaware. Every other state has at least one county rooting for the 'Niners and in all but a handful, San Francisco fans are in the majority, although most are admittedly of the fair-weather variety. Fortunately the Super Bowl is being held at an indoor stadium this year.
Friday, January 25, 2013
Saint Paul is no ordinary saint. Unlike much of the New Testament which was passed on through oral tradition by the apostles before being written down, we know with complete certainty that Paul's epistles were written during his life by his own hand--the same hand which had formerly whipped and shackled Christians. Aside from the divine figures of the Holy Family, Paul is arguably the most important figure in all of Christianity. As a convert, the Prolix Patriot has a special fondness for Paul's story because he shows us that it is never too late and no sin is too great when we come to that place on the road to Damascus in our own lives.
It is fitting then that in addition to the Feat of the Conversion of Saint Paul, today is also the March for Life in Washington, D.C. and many of the Prolix Patriot's dear friends will be there braving the bitter cold as witnesses to Jesus' triumph over death. The most heartbreaking and yet awe-inspiring point in the March for Life is always the women who have had abortions, but have since then come to regret that "choice" as it is so often euphemized. Like Paul, they have been stopped dead in their tracks and blinded by God's awesome love. Like Paul, these women have realized that even they can find forgiveness and hope. Their courage to speak out against abortion from personal experience is a testament to the eternal power of life over death and the victory of love over sin--and this testament must also stop us dead in our tracks as well.
Relatedly, in our national discourse we are called to consider the essence of womanhood by the Obama Administration's recent decision to allow women to serve in combat duty. Women have been endowed with the incredible power to participate in the creation of life. Just as we pray for conversion of those who have had abortions or are contemplating one, we also must pray that women can always be protectors of life--and perhaps even in the heat of in battle as medics or corpsmen--but should never be destroyers of life. It is bad enough when mothers must bury their sons as casualties of war, but a son should never have to bury his mother because of the enemy's bullet.
We live in times of persecution for people of faith, but Paul reminds us that even the persecutors themselves are nevertheless called by God's infinite love to righteousness just as the most devout believers are called to continuing conversion of heart to more fully emulate Jesus and to spread the Gospel. We must remember that Jesus in all of his dreadful power was born of a woman just like the rest of us. As a consequence, a proper respect for the protective and live-giving qualities of womanhood is essential if we seek to know the heart of Jesus.
As Goethe wrote and Mahler so powerfully set to music describing the epic final scene of Faust's redemption and ascent to Heaven:
Ist nur ein Gleichnis;
Hier wird’s Ereignis;
Hier ist's getan;
Das Ewig Weibliche
Zieht uns hinan.
All that is transitory|
Is but an image;
The inadequacy of earth
Here finds fulfillment;
Here is accomplished;
The eternal feminine
leads us upwards.
Even though Dr. Faust is a fictional character, we know from the example of Saint Paul that even a man who sold his soul to the Devil would still be able to repent and seek God's eternal mercy. Like Saint Paul, we are all living in blindness, but no matter how great our small our sins, we are all on the road to Damascus and Jesus is calling us.
Friday, January 11, 2013
The Prolix Patriot recently relocated from his beloved native Virginia over the mountains to the Buckeye State of Ohio. The map above illustrates a selection of some of homotoponyms as well as a few synotoponyms from the greater Washington D.C. metropolitan area. The list is by no means exhaustive, but at first blush, it seems that Virginia especially has the most names in common with Ohio and this is for good reason. After the Revolutionary War, much of Southern Ohio was settled by soldiers from Virginia, so it is no surprise that they, like the Prolix Patriot, would have chosen familiar place names to remind them of home.
The two states have much in common besides just place names. Both states are also nicknamed "Mother of Presidents." Virginia is the birthplace of no fewer than eight presidents. Meanwhile, Ohio is the birthplace of only seven, but claims an eighth as a native son. William Henry Harrison, who famously served as president for only 30 1/2 days was born in Virginia but also considered Ohio his home state. Ironically, his successor was John Tyler, a Virginian. Despite their reputations, the last president born in Virginia was Woodrow Wilson, born in Staunton in 1856, although he called New Jersey home when elected. The last president born in Ohio was Wilson's successor, Warren G. Harding, born in Blooming Grove in 1865. In more recent times, Virginia has joined Ohio as a pivotal battleground state in national politics. Both Virginia and Ohio are now must-win states for any candidate seeking the presidency.
From an economic standpoint, both Virginia and Ohio have a major industrial and shipping hub (Norfolk on the Chesapeake Bay and Cleveland on Lake Erie), a largely rural agricultural region (Tidewater Virginia and Northwest Ohio), a centrally located state capital with historic industry related to some vice (Tobacco in Richmond and Breweries in Columbus), an historic canal terminus and port located on a major river (Alexandria on the Potomac and Cincinnati on the Ohio), and finally a mountainous area rich in natural resources and wildlife, but generally regarded as the poorer part of the state socio-economically (Appalachian Virginia and Southeastern Ohio).
In some ways, the Prolix Patriot is still right at home.
Thursday, December 27, 2012
As the old carol goes, "fast away the old year passes." In our frantic and impatient modern world there are never enough hours in the day, but with the shortness of the days in this bleak midwinter the sense of time passing far too quickly is only heightened. Paradoxically, these last fleeting and precious moments of the year are also a time to pause and take stock of where we have been and where we are going. At the end of the two-thousand twelfth year of our Lord, there is much to consider.
The Age of Obama has been extended for another four years and the so-called "fiscal cliff" is no longer merely "looming" [N.B., this should be a top contender for the cliche of the year], but is now a rumbling avalanche sliding down the mountain of debt and red tape to crush and bury us all. At the same time as we stare with horror into this thundering torrent of such immense and unimaginably massive doom it is also a time to consider how much less we have as well.
The liberals tell us that we are too fat, so we must have less food, less salt, less sugar, less trans-fats (whatever those are), and less carbohydrates. We must also have less alcohol, less smoking, and less of anything fun. This dread scourge does not only afflict us as adults though. Our children are too fat as well and there are too many of them. We need smaller children in smaller classrooms. In this respect, the liberals may get their wish, because we already have fewer children in smaller families. There are now fewer families with both parents present than there are children with single mothers or born out of wedlock.
The liberals tell us that the earth is getting warmer (or colder depending on who you ask and when), so we need to use less gasoline and have smaller cars (or no cars at all) and drive slower and not travel as far. We must use less coal, so that means less electricity, less warmth, less energy, and less light. We are told to spend more time outdoors, but there is less of that too. There is less solitude and less wilderness and the little that is left is farther away and harder to get to. There is less quality entertainment. There are fewer movies about heroic men. Perhaps there are fewer heroic men to make movies about, or perhaps it is because the liberals have demonized and deconstructed all the heroes of our past and turned them into villains.
The liberals tell us that we must not offend, so there is less prayer, less faith, less Christmas, less God. There are fewer practicing Christians. Perhaps it falls under entertainment, but there is less Tebow too. Hollywood celebrities with broken lives tell us how to live so it should not astonish us that there is less virtue, less fidelity, and less modesty. Dishonest politicians tell us they have all the answers and yet there are fewer principles, less integrity, less responsibility, less humility, less cooperation, and less trust in our public institutions. Despite having less freedom (or maybe because of it) there is less security and less peace. There is less pride in America, less dreaming, less exploration, and less hope for the future.
The liberal solution always seems to be less of something. There is too much violence, so we need fewer guns. There is too much inequality, so we need less prosperity. There is too much suffering, so we need less comfort. There is too much death, so we need less life. In the end, that last point encapsulates the rest. There seems to just be less for us to give and less of anything at all. People are tired and worn and holding on desperately for something to change, but they are less and less sure what that something even is. People are yearning for more. We want more freedom. We want more hope. We want more heroes. We want more LIFE. Let us pray that in the new year we may find some.