Thursday, February 26, 2009

Preservation of The Wilderness Battlefield

Today I’ve joined with the non-profit Civil War Preservation Trust to help save one of America’s most important Civil War battlefields. The Virginia lands where the Battle of The Wilderness was fought--May 5 and 6, 1864--are currently under a commercial development attack. The mega-retailer Walmart has launched a plan to build another 141,000-square-foot SuperCenter on a large plot of land located less than 2500 feet from the historic The Wilderness Battlefield. This when there are presently four existing Walmart stores all within twenty miles and an easy commute of The Wilderness Battlefield. Great success of Walmart SuperCenters in any location is a matter of record and fact. And the presence of this business historically generates additional business that feeds off the shopping appeal of Walmart. The Herkimer, New York Walmart SuperCenter was constructed on an abandoned factory site, and Walmart’s business operations have yielded additional business activity that currently surround Walmart including such stores as Agway, The Dollar Store, Taco Bell-KFC, Applebee's, Rite-Aid, McDonald’s, et al. Indeed, all of this new business activity is good for Herkimer County. But business activity that a new Walmart generates is unwelcome and will potentially destroy the rural beauty of the historic The Wilderness Battlefield.

The Battle of The Wilderness was the first time General Grant faced General Lee as opposing commanding Generals-of-the-Army. This battle was a horribly blind and vicious fight where the surrounding heavy woodlands blazed with many fires ignited by the explosive discharge of weaponry from opposing forces. Many of the wounded soldiers were burned alive where they lay by the wildfires. Battle causalities totaling 29,000 men killed, wounded, or missing-in-action resulted from the ensuing forty-eight hours of fierce and brutal combat. Those incredible 1861-1865 military services and sacrifices offered by the War of the Rebellion combatants must be forever respected and fittingly honored.

My reading on the activities of several regiments of New York State Volunteers (NYSV) during the “War Of The Rebellion” has recently focused on the gallant 121st Infantry Regiment of NYSV. The 121st NY was formed in July 1862 by orders from New York Governor Morgan to a committee representing New York State's Twentieth Senatorial District. The Honorable Richard Franchot, U.S. Congressman from Otsego County, chaired this State Committee of local activist from district townships. Committee members were empowered to immediately provision and form the new regiment. Regimental enlisted volunteers were residents mainly from the various townships of Herkimer and Otsego Counties. Representative Franchot was named colonel of the new regiment, and resigned and honorable discharged in late September 1862 to resume his congressional duties.


During the Battle Of The Wilderness, with Lieutenant Colonel Olcott commanding, the ten combat-hardened companies of the 121st NY Infantry fought this confusing and disorganized battle in a heavily wooded setting. The two-day battle found the regiment in frequent close contact and often hand-to-hand-combat with those "Johnnie-Rebs". Action was capably described by fellow Second Brigade soldier Isaac O. Best in his written account, “History of the 121st New York State Infantry.” It is not my purpose here to disclose the many heroic exploits of the 121st NY Regiment, except to report that commanding Colonel Olcott was shot in the head and taken prisoner by Rebels, the captains of both Company A and C were captured and taken prisoner, that following the battle about 100 men from the 121st NY were missing-in-action (some perhaps later found as burned corpses), and that about half of the regiment was either killed, wounded, or missing during the fog of combat. Several soldiers of the 121st NY were captured sent to the southern hell-hole Andersonville. So the lands surrounding this sacred The Wilderness Battlefield is soaked with the blood of many Herkimer and Otsego County residents who answered President Lincoln’s call to defend the Union. These brave and principled men voluntarily enlisted with the noble 121st Infantry Regiment of New York State Volunteers. This is why the lands around The Wilderness Battlefield must be preserved and forever honored as hallowed ground.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

How to Simulate Submarine Life
In The Privacy Of Your Home

1. Obtain a large dumpster. Paint exterrior charcoal-black, weld all the covers shut except one which can be bolted closed from the inside. Coat the interior with one-gallon diesel fuel. Hitch it to the back of your ol’ lady's mini van. Gather twelve friends and bolt yourselves inside and let your ol’ lady pull it around for several weeks while she does the errands.
2. Sleep on the shelf in your closet. Replace the closet door with a curtain. Three hours after you go to sleep, have your ol’ lady whip open the curtain. Shine a flashlight in your eyes, and mumble, "You got the next watch, oops, sorry…wrong rack".
3. Don't eat any food that you don't get out of a can, a box, or have to add water.
4. Paint all the windows on your car black. Drive around town at high speeds with your ol’ lady standing up in the sunroof shouting course and speed directions to you.
5. Renovate your bathroom. Build a wall across the middle of your bathtub and move the showerhead down to chest level. When you take showers, make sure you shut off the water while soaping.
6. Repeat back everything anyone says to you.
7. Sit in your car for six hours a day with your hands on the wheel and the motor running, but don't go anywhere.
8. For proper air quality put lube oil in your humidifier instead of water and set it to "High".
9. Don't watch T.V. except movies in the middle of the night. Also, have your family vote on which movie to watch, and then show a different one. Get six copies of The Sound of Music and show it at least every other night.
10. Don't do your wash at home. Gather your neighbor’s clothes along with yours, pick the most crowded Laundromat you can find, and do the neighborhood laundry in a single washer and dryer. Make sure that 12% of the laundry is lost and 20% of the finished laundry is incorrectly distributed to the wrong neighbor.
11. Leave lawnmower running in your living room six hours a day for proper noise level. (For Engineering Divisions)
12. Have the paperboy give you a haircut.
13. Take hourly readings on your electric and water meters.
14. Sleep with your dirty laundry.
15. Bug juice becomes your favorite after work refreshment. Goes much better with a shot of torpedo gilly.
16. Invite at least 85 guests to a party, but don't have enough space, chairs, or food for them…and have no beer available within 500 miles.
17. Buy a trash compactor and use it once a week. Store up garbage in the other side of your bathtub.
18. Wake up every night at midnight and have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on stale bread, if anything. (Optional--canned ravioli, cold soup, or cherry peppers)
19. Make up your family menu a week ahead of time without looking in your food cabinets or refrigerator.
20. Set your alarm clock to go off at random times during the night. When it goes off, jump out of bed and get dressed as fast as you can, then run out into your yard and break out the garden hose. Have the ol’ lady yell, “this is a test” after about ten minutes.
21. Once a month take every major appliance completely apart, scrape off any gunk, and then put them back together.
22. Use 18 scoops of coffee per pot and allow it to sit for 5 or 6 hours before drinking.
23. Invite at least 85 people you don't really like to come and visit for two or three months.
24. Store your eggs in your garage for two months and then cook a dozen each morning. Toss out the sulfur-smelling, dark green eggs only.
25. Have a fluorescent lamp installed on the bottom of your coffee table and lie under it to read books.
26. Periodically check your refrigerator compressor for "sound shorts".
27. Put a complicated lock on your basement door and wear the key on a lanyard around your neck.
28. Lock-wire the lug nuts on your car.
29. When making cakes, prop up one side of the pan while it is baking. Then spread icing really thick on one side to level off the top.
30. Every so often, yell "Emergency Surface", run into the kitchen, and sweep all pots/pans/dishes off of the counter onto the floor. Then, yell at your ol’ lady for not having the place "stowed for sea".
31. Put on the headphones from your stereo (don't plug them in). Go and stand in front of your stove. Say (to nobody in particular) "Stove manned and ready". Stand there for 3 or 4 hours. Say (once again to nobody in particular) "Stove secured". Roll up the headphone cord and put them away.
32. Write a controlled work package to change the oil on your car. Setup a card system of weekly tasks so you don't forget to change your oil or fill up the gas tank. Make sure you make a lengthy record of your car upkeep and get your ol' lady to sign-off your worksheet.
33. Periodically sleep on the kid’s teeter-totter; then give twenty bucks to a homeless person to put the board in motion every half hour while yelling “standby for angles and dangles” into an empty number ten tin can.

Great link: http://www.queenfish.org/noframes/acronym.html

Thursday, February 12, 2009

My ride on USCGC Sapelo (WPB 1314)




In late 1989, made a trip to Adak, Aleutian Islands, Alaska -- compliments of the U.S. Navy -- to participate in a large multi-service military exercise called PACEX-89.  A couple of U.S. Coast Guard 110-foot Island-Class Patrol Boats had sailed to Adak to participate in this exercise as Coast Guard representatives. Coast Guard crews affectionately call this class of patrol boat the "110'ers." One night after dinner at Naval Air Station Adak Officers Club, I was introduced to Commanding Officer USCGC Sapelo (WPB 1314). A conversation ensued, and the discussion eventually brought an invitation to join his crew at sea the next day aboard the 110-foot Patrol Boat Sapelo.  I've got to report these many years later those hearty Coast Guard 110'er crews... those windy Bering Sea waters north of Adak Island Finger Cove Piers are typically very rough in late fall days. Most of the U.S. Navy ships remained at anchor or tied up to the pier this stormy day... but Sapelo departed on schedule from Finger Cove and proceeded to sea. What a ride it was indeed.  Been to sea on most things that float from aircraft carriers on down to Norfork-based YTB tugs boats, albeit mostly under water on submarines.  And Sapelo's crew navigated her safely back to Finger Cove piers that evening, I'm not too ashamed to report being a bit green-about-the-gills. That firm footing offered by Adak Island piers are a welcome sight is to mild a statement. Departing Alaska following the PACEX-89 military exercise found me with a high degree of added respect for the men and women of the U.S. Coast Guard, especially those who crew those small Island Class 110-foot patrol boats. I’ll call these crews new age "Rough Riders." A respectful tip-of-the-hat to the crews of Island-Class Coast Guard Patrol Boats.


Wednesday, February 4, 2009

World War II U.S. Navy Machinist Mate Anthony “Tony” Rella

Tears welled-up in his eyes the first time we talked about his ship. And it was with obvious pride the day when Tony Rella presented me with several documents to read. On Sunday morning December 7, 1941, Tony was a member of the ship's crew aboard USS NEOSHO (AO-23) moored on “Battleship’s Row,” Ford’s Island, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. NEOSHO (pronounced "nee-OH-sho") arrived in Pearl Harbor from the West Coast the day before, fully laden with fuels. Most of her cargo fuel was off-loaded throughout Saturday evening. During the Japanese surprise attack that Sunday morning, Captain Phillips and NEOSHO’s gallant crew navigated her to safer waters through the intense shelling and exploding bombs -- past the burning ships and the human slaughter that forever marks that awful day. Tony’s ship was totally undamaged; avoiding great peril as her crew expertly sailed the explosive fume laden NEOSHO past those many heavily traumatized and sinking ships of the U.S. Pacific Fleet. Countless acts of unrecognized heroism certainly occurred that day, and just as certain Tony was heavily involved with his responsibility to bring his ship through the devastation. Tony was immensely proud of his service to his Country and his Navy. His active membership and strong participation with the Central New York Pearl Harbor Survivors Association was a source of particular personal pride.

USS NEOSHO was a Fleet Oiler (a tanker) tasked to deliver lifeblood oil and gas to the Pacific Fleet. Tony and the crew affectionately called her “Fat Girl.” Without the support of crews and ships like NEOSHO, the fleet and it’s aircraft simply could not operate. Work aboard Fleet Oilers proved hazardous for all and deadly to some. Loading of airplane and diesel fuel, a high tempo of operations, and a heavy demand of maximizing their cargo deliveries placed each ship’s crew in life and death situations. Tony was a U.S. Navy Machinist Mate, the kind of sailor who maintains much of the ship’s support equipment…the small engines, the pumps, the compressors, the hydraulic systems, and the ventilation, air & water systems. Tony did his job with high professionalism, whatever had to be done to keep and maintain this equipment in top operational condition. Any ship would be dead-in-the-water in relatively short order without the productivity of guys like Tony. But surviving the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor is only part of Tony’s NEOSHO record.

In early May 1942, USS NEOSHO sailed into the Coral Sea north of Australia, in direct service to the American Pacific Fleet. The NEOSHO and her escort ship had been left behind in a “safe area” while the vital American Aircraft Carriers USS YORKTOWN and USS LEXINGTON sought out the Japanese Fleet. On May 7th, just as the major fighting began at the Battle of the Coral Sea, Japanese dive-bombers and torpedo airplanes found and hit NEOSHO and her escort ship, sinking her single escort USS SIMS (DD-409) with multiple bomb hits around midday. Burning and immobilized, the NEOSHO began listing sharply in the rough seas. The horror that followed over the next several days was still on Tony’s face as he talked about these events. Many of Tony’s shipmates lay dead or dying. On confused orders to abandon ship, a large group of shipmates boarded lifeboats and were swept away by the heavy seas, never to be seen again. NEOSHO was sinking as her able crew hung on and battled to save her. They expected rescue soon, but that rescue did not come for over four days. The crew had all but lost faith that rescue would ever come…but then finally a rescue ship appeared on May 11th. There were 293 men aboard NEOSHO just before the attack at the Battle of the Coral Sea. Of these, 184 men died while 109 survived. Just fifteen SIMS crew-members survived her tragic combat sinking, but two of these surviving sailors died from wounds within a few days of their rescue.

Tony Rella was honorably discharged from active duty following WWII as a Chief Petty Officer. He was enormously proud of his Pearl Harbor Survivor Medal, an award that took our government over fifty years to authorize. I’ve always been bothered by the military “awards and commendation” process. So many acts of heroism go unrecognized by the military. Tony, and many guys like him, volunteered to serve before America entered WWII. It was not politically correct in some sectors of American society to volunteer for military service in 1938 thru 1940, with the currents of war increasing as Tony’s naval service began. Then, as now, a vocal minority of misguided Americans were posturing an increasing isolationist view. Several of these appeasers are now marked by history as misguided cowards. Unlike Tony, some Americans had turned a blind-eye to the terrible world events unfolding in Europe and the Far East. But Tony’s heroism stands as a matter of fact and official record. His military service was then -- and is still -- worthy of several significant combat awards that somehow went unwritten, never to be awarded and presented during his lifetime.

The words of General Dwight D. Eisenhower may sum it up best -- “History does not entrust the care of freedom to the weak or timid.” Anthony “Tony” Rella passed away October 25, 2007, we each lost an unsung hero on Tony’s passing that day.  Tony…you Sir are fondly remembered and sadly missed. By honorable naval tradition…

“Fair Winds and Following Seas.”


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Many background facts presented in this posting were taken from Mr. Del Leu’s web site (www.delsjourney.com). This significant research was published to honor the memory of his late Uncle Bill Leu, and to honor the heroic crew of USS Neosho. Del’s work assisted in the preparation of Tony Rella’s obituary. Shipmate Bill Leu, who passed away in 2003, was also a Pearl Harbor and Neosho survivor...and served with Tony Rella aboard Neosho. Significant background information also came from an article "Fat Girl" published 2/6/1943 in the “Saturday Evening Post” magazine -- and other related papers -- that Tony supplied to me.