This week is the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Midway, one of the most decisive naval battles in American history, and possibly in world history. It was certainly the first major Allied victory against the Japanese fleet in World War Two.
Why is this American victory called a “miracle”, most notably by renowned historian Gordon Prange in his bestseller Miracle at Midway? Because the possibility of an American victory seemed so remote, and the circumstances of the American victory were so unlikely.
I haven’t done a lot of posts lately, much less history posts. But today is an important anniversary, and will probably be the last major anniversary for this event in which there are still a number of people alive who remember it.
The attack on Pearl Harbor was one of those events that defined my grandparents’ generation, and virtually everyone could tell you where they were and what they were doing when they heard the news. And of course, President Roosevelt’s speech to Congress the following day is one of the most famous in American history.
Before I start talking about this particular Park Service ranger, I wanted to put it in context of my own relationship with the Park Service. I have been a fan of the Park Service for a very, very long time, at least since I was a boy. And for about a decade in my twenties and early thirties I was a volunteer for them at Stones River National Battlefield (in fact, you can occasionally still see a photo of me in my Union Army Civil War uniform in old park literature) in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Occasionally I also did programs at other Civil War battlefields and sites. I miss it, frankly. Perhaps one day I will be in a position to do that sort of volunteer work again.
Anyway, I still read a lot about things going on with the Park Service and I generally try to keep up with things going on with NPS. Like any organization, NPS has its celebrities. I had the privilege of meeting one of them, Civil War historian Ed Bearss, now retired, on several occasions. Ed is a warm, funny, extremely intelligent and knowledgeable guy with an incredible work ethic. And in that regard I am reminded of him by Betty Reid Soskin, another NPS celebrity. Betty is an extraordinary woman who also happens to be the oldest serving U.S. Park Service Ranger. She currently works at the Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Park in Richmond, California. In fact, Betty was absolutely instrumental in the creation of that historic park. And since she herself lived through the events preserved at the site, she has her own unique and fascinating stories to tell about that time in our history, including what it was like to be a woman of color in that segregated era.
Last year she lit the National Christmas Tree and got to meet President Barack Obama, who gave her a special commemorative coin as a souvenir and gift. At the ceremony, she carried a photograph of her great-grandmother, who was born a slave in 1846 and died in 1948 at the age of 102. She carried the same photograph in her pocket in 2009, when she witnessed President Obama’s inauguration.
Well, something terrible happened to her this past Monday. She was beaten and robbed in her own home there in Richmond. And one of the things the a**hole thief took from her was the coin the President gave her.
What kind of person does that? Who attacks a 94-year-old woman? How utterly depraved and/or desperate do you have to be to do that? God, I hope the police catch whoever did this to her. And the President has already said that he will replace the coin.
Luckily, she seems to be recovering. But if you want to help her, the Rosie the Riveter Trust has organized a fund to help Betty out with her expenses while she recovers. And being the awesome person she is, Betty has already said that any excess funds will be used for a special documentary film history project about her life.
Glad you are still with us, Betty, and from the East Coast, we all wish you the very best and hope you get well soon. We love you.
I know it probably sounds stupid, but it’s hard for me to explain how excited I am about this research. So much so that I am tempted to go speak with the researchers sometime (living in Cambridge does have its advantages). But to understand why I am geeking out about this, it might help for me to go into some detail about what we know about rogue waves, and how they have affected ships at sea, as well as oil rigs, lighthouses, and coastlines. This is one of those times that my love of history (especially maritime history) and my love of science come together.
Good people make mistakes. It happens. No one is perfect. How we acknowledge those mistakes, and how we try to make amends, that is what’s critical to getting along with everyone, especially those who are harmed by our mistakes. It makes a world of difference whether we recognize the harm we sometimes do as individuals, as organizations, and even as nations.
And that is why it truly pains me to see groups that I believe in make bad, even horrible mistakes, and then fail to do the right thing afterward. It is just heartbreaking. And lately it seems like it is one after another.
As many of you already know, I am a lover of history. Maritime history is especially one of my favorite sub-fields of history, and I love to see historic ships or reproductions of historic ships at any opportunity. I am lucky enough to live in a state (and a region) that has many.
So I went to the old Navy Yard in Charlestown on Saturday, since my back was feeling a bit better and I was feeling up to doing some walking around. And I am so very glad I did, because for the first time ever I got to take a tour of the inside of the USS Cassin Young, one of the museum ships kept there by the National Park Service.