February 23, 2021

Effort to name ship after famed Iwo Jima photographer in jeopardy

More than 75 years after Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal took the iconic photograph of the second flag raising on Mount Suribachi during the Battle for Iwo Jima on Feb. 23, 1945, an effort was underway to have a ship named after him. Unfortunately, that effort will be all the more difficult since learning that as much as $200,000 may be required just to christen the ship before approval can be granted.

            The diminutive 33-year-old photographer whose eyesight was too poor to serve in the Army as a military photographer barely made it to the top of Mount Suribachi after the first flag had been raised and was about to be replaced with a second, larger flag by the men of Easy Company, 2nd Battalion, 28th Marine Regiment, 5th Marine Division.

            He hastily stacked some rocks and hopped up on them beside Marine Sgt. Bill Genaust, (later killed in action and his body never recovered) who had a 16mm motion picture camera.  Both men captured the second flag going up as the first one was coming down. Rosenthal snapped the shot with his bulky Speed Graphic camera. 

The famed image Rosenthal captured atop Mount Suribachi during the Battle for Iwo Jima, 1945.

            His photograph became an inspirational symbol for the war and fueled a wildly successful $26 billion bond-raising tour that was instrumental in helping the United States continue on to victory against the Japanese. But long before the advent of digital photography that provides the image immediately, Rosenthal had no idea of the quality of the photo he had just taken and next took a photo of the Marines celebrating on the mountain and sent the black and white film to Guam to be developed. The flag-raising photo was developed and transmitted via radio to the States in time to appear two days later on the front pages of Sunday newspapers across the country. 

            When Rosenthal got back to Guam later, a fellow journalist told him what a great photo it was and asked if it had been posed. Thinking he was talking about the photo of the Marines on the mountain taken after the flag had been raised that came to be called the “Gung-ho” photograph, Rosenthal replied that it had been posed. 

            That minor mix-up caused controversy for years, even though Genaust’s motion picture film provided verification that Rosenthal’s photo had not been staged. And S/Sgt. Norman Hatch, a movie combat photographer who had taken footage during the battle of Tarawa and was in charge of the Marine cameramen on Iwo Jima, was able to guarantee that the Marine Corps could use it forever without payment. 

            After Hatch left Iwo Jima with Genaust’s film, he met in Washington with the Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Alexander “Archie” Vandergrift, and together met with Time-Life and Associated Press executives and indicated that Rosenthal’s photo was legitimate. As a result, the general asked the AP for permission to use it.

            The general was offered two duplicate negatives and every print would cost the Marine Corps a dollar. Hatch hadn’t yet seen the military-owned film by Genaust to know if there was a similar image to be taken from it. But Hatch, to save the Marine Corps money, bluffed and said they could pull a still image from the film and “blow that up to 8x10 inches and make a print.” He said they might lose some definition, but the Marine Corps would own the footage and there would be no need to pay.

            As a result, the AP gave the negative to the Marine Corps and the permission to use it “in perpetuity.” Hatch later said he had no idea at the time if Genaust’s film was “ruined, scratched, underexposed or damaged in some way.”  

            Rosenthal was already a successful photographer and had covered several campaigns in the Pacific with the Marines. He was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for the flag-raising photograph, which cemented his reputation and career. It was the model for a Felix de Weldon sculpture in Arlington Ridge Park, adjacent to Arlington National Cemetery, in 1954.

            Rosenthal always said, “I took the picture; the Marines took Iwo Jima.”

            While his photo is regarded as the most important photo of WWII and among the most important in the world, Rosenthal’s name began to fade from public view after the war ended. Two U.S. postage stamps showed off his photo but didn’t use his name. And de Weldon’s bronze memorial in Arlington did not bear Rosenthal’s name until 1982, when it was added as an afterthought, 28 years after the dedication.

            Given the historical significance and impact of Rosenthal’s work, a group of media photographers, videographers and journalists in the Fellowship of the Lens Educational Foundation are determined to honor Rosenthal’s accomplishments and those of other combat journalists. They formed USSJoe.org and have been petitioning the U.S. Secretary of the Navy to name a warship after the photographer. They have invited people to sign the petition at www.LensFellows.org, and signatures have been added from all over the world.

            They are also accepting donations and offering USS Joe PPE masks that exceed the N95 standard. Masks are available by making a PayPal donation at the fellowship website.

            Plans were going well and the group was optimistic when they learned about the additional money that was required. The amount is likely too big for the small group to come up with. Sadly, all the efforts to date may not be enough to get a ship named in his honor.

            Still, the fellowship plans to honor Rosenthal in other ways, including exhibits, an educational website and an honorary street naming, possibly in front of the Marines Memorial Club & Hotel in San Francisco, or another Marine-or Iwo Jima-centric city to be determined. While there have been two U.S. postage stamps of the flag-raising image, perhaps a future stamp will include Rosenthal’s name this time.

            Today the massive bronze statue based on the photo sits alongside Arlington Cemetery where thousands who helped save the country, many of them World War II veterans from 75 years ago, lie in repose. What a shame that an honor for the man whose photo was instrumental I winning the war against Japan has been stalled by red tape and a hefty price tag.

January 15, 2021

A Brief Vacation and a Memorable Chance Meeting

It never fails to amaze me that when you’re away from home and least expect it, you run into people by chance and discover you have some connection with them. My family and I recently rented a cabin for a few days out in the hills of Brown County, Ind., northwest of Nashville. On Monday, we needed to fill an order of Tales Press Books to Amazon and had to go to the Brown County Public Library to use a printer when the chance meeting happened.
          When we stopped at the library, a sign said it was closed because of COVID-19 and had a number to call for service. My wife called to arrange for the copies. While she was doing that, I talked with two local women who were at the library to return a book or to have copies made. One of them returned a book and left.
          The other woman didn’t have a cell phone to call in, so I called the number, handed her the phone and let her tell the librarian what she wanted. While we waited, I talked with the woman about Nashville and how it had changed and grown since my wife and I spent a few days at a cabin in Brown County State Park back in the early ’90s.
          “Oh, yeah,” she said. “Every time somebody dies or sells a house, somebody buys it and opens up another shop. I’m not originally from Nashville, but my husband was born and raised there. Lived here all his life.”
          I asked her where she was from.
          “Where in Illinois?” I asked.
          “Jasper County,” she said.
          “Really?” I said. “I live in Urbana now, but I’m from Crawford County and grew up in Bellair, a little village less than a hundred yards east of the Crawford-Jasper County line.”
          We continued talking about where the two for us had lived and found that we were about the same age. She said she was from Willow Hill and had gone to high school in Newton. I had gone to Oblong High School, a few miles away. We laughed and said what a small world it is.
          “What brings you to Nashville?” she asked, and I told her we had rented a cabin several miles northwest of town to get away from home for a few days and gave her one of my cards and told her I’d written a novel (Wild Hands Toward the Sky) that was set in the area where both of us were from that she might like to read.
          “I don’t have a computer,” she said. “But my daughter does. If you’ll write the name of the book on the back of the card, I’ll have her take a look.”
          My wife wrote the name of the book on the back of the card. And when the librarian returned, she handed the woman a large coffee table book with a copy of an article. The photo on the top page was of Burl Ives and his guitar.
          “That’s Burl Ives!" I said.
          “Yes,” she said. “The article was written by him. I wanted a copy of it. I grew up not far from Hunt City where he did.”
          “He was born on a farm out in the country six or seven miles from where I lived,” I said. “I interviewed Burl at his home in Santa Barbara, Calif., in the early ’80s for a story in the cultural journalism publication, Tales from the General Store, I’d founded to help preserve the history and culture of the central Midwest area and for students to learn about it and write articles. You can see the interview with Burl in the archives on the Tales Press website that has the address on the card. And he’s buried just across the North Fork of the Embarras west of Oblong at the Mounds Church Cemetery.”
          “I know. I’ve been there.”
          The woman told the librarian what we’d been talking about and asked for another card. I didn’t have one, so the librarian took the one from the woman back inside, made two copies, and gave me the card back. The woman handed me the copy of the Ives article she’d just had copied. “I want you to have this. I can get another one.”
          Back home, I sent two copies of Wild Hands Toward the Sky and two complete sets of the 27 issues of the Tales cultural journalism project, which are also in the archives of the Tales Press website and on the Illinois Digital Public Library, to the woman and the library. The third issue has an early photo of Burl Ives on the cover and features the article from the interview.
          That trip to the library was truly a memorable chance meeting I won’t forget.

December 11, 2020

Shirley was right; school wasn’t so bad

That morning I’d gotten up earlier than usual, pulled on a pair of bib overalls and fastened the galluses over a blue chambray shirt. Then I’d gone to the kitchen for a bowl of Wheaties with sliced bananas, a dash of sugar sprinkled over each slice, and covered in thick cream.
          It was my first day of school. I’d wanted to start school the year before but wasn’t old enough. Now I was having mixed feelings. One minute I couldn’t wait for school to start; the next minute I’d try to think how to put it off. For days, I’d been asking my mother, my father, the woman next door, the girl across the street—anybody who’d listen—to tell me what it was like to go to school. 
          But the day had finally arrived for me to find out for myself. I shoveled the Wheaties down like a starving pig, occasionally chewing a slice of banana before swallowing it. At the kitchen sink, I slowed down long enough to pump some water into a washpan and splash a little on my face to erase the milk mustache with one hand and slick down a cowlick with the other one.
          Then I ran out the door to meet the girl across the street as she walked out of her front door. She was in the sixth grade.
          “What’ll I have to do today, Shirley?” I asked as we walked down the road toward the one-room schoolhouse. 
          I don’t remember her being specific about anything. But she might as well have told me that Miss (Leona) Race carried a blacksnake whip like Lash LaRue and would pop out one of your eyes if you ever crossed her. I was too frightened for it to have made any difference. 
          “But what’ll I do today?” I asked again, looking at the school with one eye and watching Shirley’s face with the other one.
          When she answered, I asked if the teacher would whip anyone. 
          “Of course she will,” Shirley said. “She’s a teacher. But you don’t have to worry about it. All you have to do is to mind what she says and do your work. She only whips you if you’re bad.”
          “What if I have to go to the toilet?” I asked, feeling much more like going to the toilet than going to school.
          She smiled, and held up one finger and said, “Hold up one finger if you have to do No. 1 and two fingers if you have to do No. 2.”
          It all seemed so simple.
          “Is school hard?” I asked, firing another question as the schoolhouse threatened to swallow us before she could answer. “I don’t know how to write.”
          Shirley, bless her heart, sighed and took a long breath before she patiently explained that was why I was going to school.          
          “You’ll get some books, and you’ll color in you colorin’ books,” she said. “Maybe read a little. Nothing hard. First grade is easy.” 
          “Heck, I can’t read,” I said.
          “That’s why you’re goin’ to school,” she said. “Don’t worry about it.”
          I did worry about it, and my knees knocked together as we made the final assualt, and we walked through the schoolhouse door. 
          Miss Race looked up and said, “Hello, just show him where the first grade sits, Shirley.’”  
          From there on, I don’t remember a thing about that day and not much about the year. Oh, I remember trying to read to my mother about Dick and Jane and Sally and Spot running around. And I remember having trouble with the word “run.” Mother told me so many times that every time I’d hesitate, my younger sister would say, “Run.” 
          Other than that, school wasn’t a problem. Miss Race was a nice teacher, particularly considering the fact that she taught all eight grades in a one-room schoolhouse. 
          Most of the time I liked school that year. I did wonder if I’d ever grow up and get out of  school. The only world I knew was just outside the window. And I wanted to see what was going on beyond where I could see. 
          So I’d daydream and think about the world beyond the window. It’s undoubtedly an experiece that kids everywhere share, whether they went to a one-room country school or a school in the heart of the city. 
          When I’m reminded of mine, I stare out the window and smile as I recall walking to school with Shirley that morning. She was right. School wasn’t so bad then.

November 1, 2020

Remembering an uncle from childhood

Except for his clean-shaven face, he was exactly the kind and shape of man I imagined Santa Claus to be. He was a jolly man, always had a twinkle in his eyes, a smile on his face and a funny story on the tip of his tongue. He loved kids, though he had none of his own.
          Not very tall, he had massive arms, a thick hairy chest, an enormous waist and legs. He said he could lift the front end of an old Model A car. 
          His laughter came from the bottom of his huge belly and rumbled into the air. Sometimes tears rolled down his cheeks, he laughed so long and hard.
          When a man told him he was going to whip him over something trivial and long since forgotten, he said he laughed and shook his head. “You’re welcome to try, mister, but you might want to pack a dinner pail and bring a water jug. If you get the job done, it’ll take all day.”

           But that was a side of him I knew only through stories. I just knew him as Uncle Roy. He lived with Aunt Fannie on a small hill, surrounded by trees. In the cool of the evening, he’d sit on the front porch or in the yard in his bib overalls and laugh and tell stories to my sister and our cousins.

          On Christmas Day at Grandma’s, he really was Santa Claus to all the kids and passed out candy, toys and love. He’d disappear for a while and park his car down the road. There he’d slip into his Santa Claus suit and walk the muddy, frozen or snow-covered road back to the house.

          With a sack of goodies slung over his shoulder, he’d sneak through the back door. We’d see him coming a quarter of a mile away. But we’d pretend we didn’t see him.

          Around the fire after dinner at other times, he’d visit with us and teach us what we had a difficult time learning. “You can’t spell geography?” he’d ask. “Why that’s easy. Just remember George-Elliott’s-oldest-girl-rode-a-pig-home-yesterday.”

          And we’d remember it.

          In the summertime he’d bring cold watermelon to Grandma’s. An hour or two after dinner, he’d cut it while we watched with our mouths open and our tongues hanging out. There was always a steady flow of conversation as he sliced it and passed it around.

          His eyes always twinkled when he’d see the juice dribble down our chins or when we’d spit the jet-black seeds at each other. The other grownups would say, “Here, you kids quit that.” But he’d just laugh. He understood.

          We always wanted to go to his house to visit because he had the time to take us fishing, swimming, blackberry picking, mushroom hunting, riding his goats, whatever our whim. And we had many whims.

          But at his house he’d make us go to bed early for his was a day world. He’d get up early and show us the beauty of the sun rising through the woods across the road.

          And he’d show us the squirrels at play in the early morning light before taking us through the dew-laden grass to drive the milk cow to the barn. As he showed us how to milk the cow, he’d ask if we wanted to give it a try. More often than not, we’d try only to give up in disgust at not being able to match the heavy stream of milk he made.

            After a breakfast of biscuits and gravy, we’d gather the eggs and perhaps help Aunt Fannie churn butter. In blackberry season, we’d pick berries before the summer sun got too hot. Then we’d clean them and have cobbler for dinner. It always tasted better when we’d picked the berries. 

          In the heat of the day, he’d sometimes take us swimming in the river. Most of us couldn’t swim well, but he’d have an old inner tube for each of us to float around on. The water was shallow, so he’d find a deeper spot where he could float on his back or swim and laugh at our frolicking. 

          Back at his house, we’d play cowboys and Indians as he watched. He’d laugh and kid us out of our tears and hurts when we fell and went to him scratched and bruised.

          He had an old dog he had named Dopey that howled like she was shot every time a train went by on the track a half a mile away. At night she woke us all because we weren’t used to her. We all loved that dog, though, just as we did Uncle Roy. Dopey eventually died. So did he.    

          Perhaps he didn’t realize all the happy times he gave us, perhaps he did. But I don’t think I every told him how much I appreciated him. Sometimes it just takes a long time to get around to saying some of the things we should have said long ago.

          So this is thanks a little late, Uncle Roy, for all the happiness and joy you gave us. What you did was help us learn to laugh at life, enjoy it and deal with it. We appreciated it then and still do.


October 8, 2020

Nadine Ramsey: One of the Often-Forgotten Women Airforce Service Pilots of World War II

“This is not a time when women should be patient. We are in a war, and we need to fight it with all our ability and every weapon possible. Women pilots, in this particular case, are a weapon waiting to be used.  Eleanor Roosevelt, 1942

Nearly 1,100 women answered the call to service as pilots ferrying planes all across the United States from early 1942 until the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) was disbanded in 1944. During that time, these women had to overcome the discrimination they faced simply because of their gender, but still provided a valuable service for the war effort.

            One of those women was Nadine Ramsey, born in 1911 in Carlyle, Ill. She and her younger brother, Edwin, born in 1917, lived there with their parents while their father worked in the early oil fields. Her story, “Taking Flight: The Nadine Ramsey Story,” written by Edwin’s widow, Raquel “Raqui” Ramsey, and Tricia Aurand, was just published by the University Press of Kansas.  

            The family moved on to El Dorado, Kan., after their sister, Treva, died after accidentally pulling a kettle of boiling water onto herself. Still working in the oil fields there, their father was away from home for days at a time, often as far away as Texas and Oklahoma.

            After a fit of rage with their mother during one period when he was home, their father was arrested and taken to jail for the night. He was found hanging in the cell the next morning. Early in 1930, when their mother was having a difficult time providing income and overcoming the stigma of her husband’s suicide, they moved to Wichita, a few miles north, to start over.               

            It was there in “the exploding aviation industry” that Nadine became interested in flying. She attended a business college for the secretarial and bookkeeping jobs that women held and were expected to do. But she was interested in flying and paid for flying lessons with her meager salary and received her limited commercial pilot license in the spring of 1937. Flying continued to be her interest, and she became one of the first two women to carry the airmail for the U.S. Postal Service. 

            Her story continued to be intertwined with her brother. 

            In the intervening years before the war, Nadine continued flying and moved to California in 1939, got a job with Douglas Aircraft Co., and then took flight training at Mines Field near where she lived. She soon accepted a job at Aero Acceptance Corp. and offered flight training and sales as part of her secretarial duties after buying a small plane in 1940. 

            While taking a prospective customer flying who wanted to buy a plane for her husband, a retired Marine Corps captain, they crashed when the small plane was caught in a downdraft. Both women escaped with “crushed and mangled” legs, and Nadine also had a broken back and some broken ribs. Doctors wanted to amputate one of her legs. She refused.        

            As soon as Edwin heard, he left law school at Oklahoma University to go take care of her. He later encouraged her to get back in a plane and said she would, “even if he had to drag her by the hair.” After her recovery, he persuaded her to pursue her plans to fly because there was a war coming and she’d be needed.

            The war did come, and the Army Air Force needed pilots but initially only allowed men to fly military airplanes and ferry them around the country, to tow targets in training and to test repaired planes where they were needed for training, and to head for combat in Europe and the Pacific. 

            Despite the need for pilots, it took a great deal of effort to allow women to fly. WASP was formed in 1942 and some 1,100 women, most of whom were in their early- to mid-20s eventually served as pilots—Nadine was in her early 30s. They were allowed to live on military bases, trained as male military pilots were, wore uniforms and marched, but were paid less than men and were not allowed to leave the United States. 

            Thirty-eight of these patriotic women—who ferried about 12,000 planes, completed countless domestic missions, and flew more than 1 million miles in service of the war—died during their service, fewer than the men who were doing the same service. Yet these women could not be buried in military cemeteries, and the military wouldn’t pay for funerals or to send their remains home. And flags could not be draped over their coffins. 

            The WASP program was discontinued in 1944. At the last graduation ceremony of the last training class, Gen. Henry “Hap” Arnold, commanding general of the U.S. Army Air Forces, said he hadn’t been sure “whether a slip of a girl could fight the control of a B-17 in heavy weather.” But he said, “It is on the record that women can fly as well as men.”

            Nadine Ramsey, like every one of these patriotic women, loved flying, loved the country and wanted to be a part of the war effort, just as did other men and women in uniform and the people at home working to provide services and material necessary to defeat the Japanese and the Axis powers. 

            During the time these women were serving, that released their male counterparts to head overseas for combat duty, they flew almost every type of military aircraft, including the B-26 and B-29 bombers and even towed targets for ground and air gunners who were training with live ammunition. They thought they would become part of the military for their service rather than being disbanded after two years. Nadine was one of only 26 of the WASPs to fly the P-38 fighter aircraft. 

            Only a few of these women were able to get piloting jobs after the WASP was disbanded. After the war, commercial airlines would only hire them as stewardesses, but not as pilots. Originally stationed at Love Field in Dallas, Texas, with the WASP, Nadine had asked to be transferred to Long Beach Army Air Base in California and was able to stay on as an attaché to the Sixth Army Ferrying Group. 

            In the late 1960s, the WASP started to have reunions, and the women began to fight for military recognitionThat status was finally granted in 1970. It had taken years before the Air Force allowed women to fly. They finally received the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian honor, when President Barack Obama signed the bill awarding the honor. By that time, many of the pilots had died. Nadine died in 1997.

            Edwin died in 2013. He had been an Army officer since the early 1940s, was stationed in the Philippines when the Japanese attacked there at the same time Pearl Harbor was bombed, and was living his own story. He had led the last calvary charge of the American Army in military history, for which he received a Silver Star, and then disappeared in the Philippine jungle countryside with others who refused to surrender. He became the leader of some 40,000 guerilla fighters until the Japanese surrendered. They placed a $100,000 bounty on him because of the guerillas’ success in fighting the Japanese Army and the relevant intelligence he was able to send to Gen. Douglas MacArthur in Australia.

            Weighing less than 100 pounds when MacArthur and the American Army returned to the Philippines, Edwin was later awarded the Distinguished Service Cross by MacArthur and went on to a successful career in civilian life with Hughes Aircraft and his own company. In retirement he wrote a memoir, “Lieutenant Ramsey’s War,” and after his death in 2013, a documentary, “Never Surrender—The Ed Ramsey Story” was filmed for which his widow served as executive producer.

            Ed had always said that Nadine “had more guts than I ever had,” and a book should be written about her. Her story is the story of women’s fight for equal treatment as pilots and how these women overcame discrimination and contributed greatly to the war effort. Nadine continued flying after the war and purchased her own P-38 (which had cost $15,000 to build), for $1,250. She performed in the piston-engined fighter plane in an acrobatic show in Phoenix and ended up featured in Life magazine in an article heralding her “as the only woman in the world to own one of her own.” 

            There’s much more to this book about her family and this amazing woman and those she flew with during the war. It’s a book that clearly shows that women are quite capable of doing exactly what men do and deserve equal treatment.