Saturday, November 29, 2008

Beach Red

I’m a huge fan of old movies….the sort Channel 17 (WTBS) out of my hometown of Atlanta used to show all day on Saturdays back when Ted Turner used to own the station. Those movies sparked my love of history by connecting events for me and providing information about manners of dress and social and cultural mores of various historical eras.

I’ve used various movies in my own classroom to spark motivation, to provide visual images in context, and mainly because movie treasures simply aren’t shown on television like they used to be without really hunting for them…..

Beach Red is the title of a film that was nominated for an Oscar in 1967 for best film editing. Cornel Wilde directed and starred in the World War II film along with Rip Torn. The film depicts American soldiers landing on a unamed beach held by the Japanese in the Pacific. The movie tells the story written by Peter Bowman who actually served in the U.S. Army in the Pacific during World War II. Many have claimed the opening sequences of Beach Red can be compared to the more modern Saving Private Ryan.

During the making of Beach Red Cornel Wilde had little assistance from the U.S. Marines as they were a little preoccupied with a place called Vietnam. The Marines did provide some old footage, but the film was so damaged Mr. Wilde spent most of the film’s budget refurbishing the film clips……a nice little present the U.S. government and historians appreciate today.

While the opening sequence could be any of the Pacific islands that saw fighting during World War II, I find the title particularly interesting…..Beach Red. Of course the significance is right there in front of you. The fighting, of course, made the pristene white beaches red…red with the blood of American and Japanese combatants.

Flip the words and you arrive at the name of an actual location….Red Beach…Red Beach on Tarawa Island…better known to some as “Bloody Tarawa” where after three days of savagery more than a thousand Americans died and more than two thousand were wounded. The Tarawa battle was the first major amphibious assault in the Central Pacific on a Japanese stronghold during the Pacific War.

Leon Cooper’s job, as a Naval landing craft officer, was to land Marines of the 2nd Division on Red Beach. He made several landings, each time watching scores of his countrymen being cut to pieces by Japanese gunfire. His sad duty later was to transport the wounded back to his ship for medical treatment. Unlike later invasions, there was no Navy hospital ship in attendance to render expert medical care. The image below shows Mr. Cooper standing next to a landing craft similar to the one he was assigned to during the war.

Far more disturbing than the garbage on Red Beach; hundreds of Americans still lie where they fell during the battle sixty-five years ago, including Congressional Medal of Honor winner, Marine Lt. Alexander Bonnyman. Backed by veterans groups, History Flight (Marathon, Florida) and WFI Research Group (Fall River, Massachusetts) have now completed an exhaustive survey of battle sites in Tarawa using radar and surveyor-quality Trimble GPS system, and have located the remains of 139 Marines. An article regarding the discovery of the remains can be found here.

The last organized effort by the Government to identify and repatriate the remains of Americans killed in Tarawa, and located in various sites on the island, was a six-month study completed on May 20, 1946. A report by the Army Quartermaster Section, Memorial Branch, dated July 3, 1946, states that, “About fifty percent of the bodies previously reported buried on Tarawa were found, and of that number, only 58 percent were identified.” There has been no effort by the Government to follow up on the 1946 investigation.

According to the Department of Defense, 72,766 American Armed Forces personnel of World War II are still listed as MIA. At least fifty percent lie where they fell in various Pacific Islands, including Tarawa.

December 7th….that day that does live on in infamy….will be the day that Leon Cooper (I wonder if he’s related to my husband’s family?) will arrive in Washington D.C. to meet with members of Congress to discuss his efforts for the last three years to have the US government remove the garbage that litters Red Beach in Tarawa [and to discuss the American remains on the island].

Time Magazine for December 6, 1943 stated, “Last week some two to three thousand U.S. Marines, most of them now dead or wounded, gave the nation a name to stand beside those of Concord Bridge, the Bonhomme Richard, the Alamo, Little Big Horn, and Belleau Wood. The name was Tarawa.”

Cooper says, “It is a sad commentary about our nation that private organizations have assumed the responsibility of locating the remains of American dead in Tarawa. They are doing this because our nation has failed to do so. These private organizations feel that those who died in defense of our country deserve to be repatriated and to be remembered with dignity and respect. Their relatives are entitled to closure. It is our nation’s shame that we have allowed these honored dead to lie in unmarked graves in that far off land all these years.”
Cooper made a trip to Tarawa this past February, returning with still painful memories of his battle experiences, taking a camera crew with him to film the garbage on Red Beach and to find out more about the American dead on the island.

The record of his visit is captured in a documentary, "Return to Tarawa--The Leon Cooper Story." (Please click the link for a documentary trailer) Narration is by movie great, Ed Harris. It will soon be released. Mark Noah, of History Flight, made significant contributions in the making of the film. Major television channels have expressed interest. A major national magazine wants to review the film.

Mr. Cooper’s books, “90 Day Wonder—Darkness Remembered,” and “The War in the Pacific—A Retrospective” are available with websites located here and here, and his blog
90 Day Wonder can be found online.

All too often we teach in our classrooms that the war continued in the Pacific after VE-Day, but by that point we are itchy to get on with other things. Oh sure, we hit the highpoints….the easy stuff like McArthur’s surrender in the Philippines, Midway, Iwo Jima and then we race headlong into into those horrendous events of August 6th and 9th—the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.

What about all of the various island-hopping battles that got us to the surrender agreement signed on the USS Missouri in September, 1945?

What about the aftermath? How did the battles change the lives of the people who lived on many of those islands?

What responsibility do combatants have to the battlefield once the battle is over?
What responsibility do governments have to their fallen soldiers in foreign lands?

All of this asks interesting questions that could spark deep thought and interesting debate.

The portion of this post that you see in italics were sent to me in an email alerting me to Mr. Cooper’s efforts.

Here is another Tarawa remembrance story.

More information regarding the litter of war found on Tarawa.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Thanksgiving Diversions

Thanksgiving is on the brain the week….who is going where, the assignments for who brings what dish, the grocery list, catching up on housework and keeping in mind those Christmas decorations need to be ready to go up the day after the feast. Then there is the cooking….cooking….cooking.

If you need a break from the preparations or if you merely need a diversion from all the family love during this time of thanksgiving check out the Plimouth Plantation website. One interesting feature of the website is the list of ongoing blogs that you can link to.

You can follow As the Wetu Turns which is a daily chronicle of daily life in the Wampanoag Indigenous program, or follow My So-Called Pilgrim Life….a chronicle of daily life in the 1627 English village at Plimouth Plantation from both a modern and historical perspective.

Even though it’s not been updated since June, 2008 Mayflower II-Captain's Blog is still a great read. Captain Peter Arenstam chronicles the events surrounding the Mayflower II 50th anniversary celebrations. You can find out what it takes to keep a 17th-century ship afloat.

Finally, The Embroiderer's Story is detailing the story of the Colonial Wardrobe and Textiles Department in their quest to recreate a 17th-century embroidered jacket.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Historical Tales and Literature Tales...They Go Hand In Hand

One of the regular patterns I tend to follow in my teaching is introducing content to students followed by textbook skills. I also like to allow students time to work with each section of content on their own or in small groups where they can discover more information on their own. This also provides an opportunity for students to confirm content I’ve introduced to them.

I smile and am quietly amused when one of my young charges trudges up to show me a historical fact we have discussed the day before. “Gee, sweetie,” I ask, “did you thing Elementaryhistoryteacher was telling tales?”

Of course, telling an interesting tale is what makes a dynamic subject to study. Sometimes you even need to add some other tales of the non-fiction kind to spice things up and motivate students to manipulate the content.

Take the inevitable unit on the framework of the U.S. government that follows the American Revolution—three branches of government each with specific duties all of them criss-crossing across the triangle of checks and balances can make even the most eager of students glaze over into dumbfounded silence watching the cloth tick away until lunch, recess, or even—thank goodness—until math class begins.

I’m real excited to discover Lane Smith’s book titled Madam President to add to my collection of government literature tales I can share with students.

There are many reasons why I would utilize this book with my government unit. Here are 13 ways I would ask student to independently interact with the book after experiencing my lesson regarding the three branches and after they have read Madam President:

1. The book contains some very interesting artwork—the little girl in each illustration captures your attention as she goes about her combined day as a little girl and as Madam President. I would ask students to compare the artwork in Lane Smith’s book to another book in my government "tale" box and write up an analysis. How are they alike? How are they different?

2. The text is limited per page (actually a good thing), but fully details the various details of the executive branch from “photo ops” to “a president must lead by example, even if it means cleaning her own room.” I would ask students to come up with a list of things the President of the United States would find it difficult to do once he or she became president.

3. Madam President is a great read aloud for children as young as four, but my small groups of nine, ten, and eleven year olds (of all reading levels) would be comfortable working with the book. I might strategically place children together depending on reading level and due to social interaction concerns.

4. Lane Smith has included many duties of the president. One activity I would ask students to complete it to use a two-columned chart titled Non-Fiction Duties (Real Duties) and Fiction Duties. For example, from the pages regarding the President’s Cabinet a student might list the Secretary of the Treasury under non-fiction but would list Secretary of Dance under fiction.

Another way the chart could be used is for students to explain the non-fiction and fiction aspects of each presidential act. In the section where Lane Smith relates the president must attend state funerals the illustration shows Madam President attending a pet’s funeral. This would go under the heading of fiction. I would then expect the student to give me an example of a real….non-fiction state funeral.

5. I would ask students to access at least three sources online regarding the duties of the executive branch. Students would compare the sources to Lane Smith’s book. Wre there any duties Mr. Smith left out?

6. Presidential veto power is in the book as a special privilege for the president. I would ask students to research the entire process regarding what Congress can do if a bill is vetoed and how a veto can be overridden….and what in the heck is a pocket veto anyway?

7. The book advises a president must keep the peace. I would extend the example illustrated in the book (two students fighting until Madam President breaks it up) by asking students to provide other ways and situations where the president keeps the peace.

8. The song “Hail to the Chief “ is mentioned in the book along with an image of actual sheet music. I would ask students to review the lyrics and based on the duties outline in the book Madam Presidents they should come up with new singable lyrics.

9. Several different ways are given to indicate Madam President is important from the title Head of State to the more fun and more contemporary Big Cheese. I would ask students to come up with other ways we could refer to the president.

10. Lane Smith tells his readers, “A president must be protected at all times.” What a great invitation to research the Secret Service!

11. One of the more fun duties of the president given in the book is “approving lunches.” The illustration shows Madam President leaving for school with her sack lunch. Students would provide me with a formal menu of their approved luncheon with an illustration.

12. Another activitiy I would include in the choices I post for students would be for students to write a campaign speech detail all of the reasons why they would make a great president and which duties they would promise to fulfill.

13. So, whether you teach in a classroom, homeschool, or teach informally during those teachable moments with your kids or grandkids Lane Smith’s Madam President is an excellent and fun resource to use when discussing the executive branch.

Go get your copy here before the inauguration!

Lane Smith’s webpage can be found here and a separate biography here.

Today is Thursday. You can find others participating in Thursday Thirteen here

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

A Balloon View of Washington D.C.

It’s always so interesting to see what you can see from a balloon. This is a balloon view of Washington D.C. taken from the July 27, 1861 edition of Harper’s Weekly. You can click on the image if you want to see an enlarged version.

Today is Wordless Wednesday. You can find other bloggers participating by clicking here

Thursday, November 13, 2008

13: The Discovery of HMS Ontario

When we think of the American Revolution we tend to focus on land battles like Lexington, Trenton, and Yorktown….rarely do we discuss ships and how they played a role in the War for Independence.

Recently a 22-gun British warship was located at the bottom of Lake Ontario near the southern shore. Many shipwreck enthusiasts have named the HMS Ontario the “Holy Grail” of shipwrecks because it was considered a lost cause as far as locating it.

1. During a gale on October 31, 1780, 130 people lost their lives as the HMS Ontario plummeted to the lakebed. There was a garrison of 60 British soldiers, a crew of approximately 40 men, and possibly about 30 American war prisoners aboard.

2. The ship was finally found in water up to 500 feet deep using side-scanning sonar and an unmanned submersible making it the oldest and only fully intact British warship ever found in the Great Lakes

3. Luckily the finders of the wreck understand the ship is a war grave and have no plans to raise it or remove any of its artifacts.

4. In an interview the finders also indicated the ship is still considered to be property of the British Admiralty.

5. The finders located the ship resting partially on its side, with two masts extending more than 70 feet above the lake bottom.

6. One of the finders was quoted as saying, “Usually when ships go down in big storms, they get beat up quite a bit. They don’t sink nice and square. This went down in a huge storm, and it still managed to stay intact. There are even two windows that aren’t broken. Just going down, the pressure difference, can break the windows. It’s a beautiful ship.”

7. The fact that the waters of Lake Ontario are very cold and deep are positives that helped the HMS Ontario remain pristene. There was little light and no oxygen to hasten decomposition, and little marine life to feed on the wood.

8. The HMS Ontario only saw five months of water travel. It was used to ferry troops and supplies along the frontier of upstate New York. Ship enthusiasts state she was the largest British ship on the Great Lakes at the time.

9. Once the British knew HMS Ontario had been lost they searched for her while keeping her disappearance a secret from the Continentals, but a day after the sinking hatchway gratings, the binnacle, compasses, and several hats and blankets drifted ashore. Later the ship’s sails were found drifting on the lake.

10. Six bodies thought to be from the HMS Ontario were found near Wilson, New York.

11. Two centuries later the ship was finally found. One of the finders had been searching for the HMS Ontario for over 35 years. For the last three years over 200 square miles were searched before the ship was found earlier this month

12. The finders state there should be no disputes regarding their identification of the find since the HMS Ontario had a rare feature…..two crow’s nests on each mast. Another was a decoratively carved bow stem. Two cannons were found, two anchors, and the ship’s bell.

13. Finally, what really clinched the ship’s identification was the quarter galleries on either side of the stern --- a kind of balcony with windows typically placed on the sides of the stern-castle, a high, tower-like structure at the back of a ship that housed the officers’ quarters.

Currently a documentary is being planned to detail the find.

You can see a video of the submerged ship at this YouTube link.

You can find more bloggers participating in Thursday Thirteen here.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Wordless: Anarchy!

This is an image of Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman. They were both convicted of conspiracy against the law and sentenced to two years in the penitentary. They both were fined $10,000 each as well on July 9, 1917.

Based on the year of the conviction you should be able to tell me what war was involved.

After her release from prison she was arrested again and deported to Russia where she was first supportive of the Russian Revolution, but eventually spoke out against the violence and supression of independent voices.

The Emma Goldman Papers is a good site to start with if you want to find out more about her.

A great source for historical images can be found at Teaching Politics

Today is Wordless Wednesday. You can find other bloggers participating by clicking here

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Happy Veterans Day!

11---11---at 11 o’clock. Does that signify anything to you? If you are a World War I veteran it would. That is the exact day and time of the armistice….the time when all fighting was to stop. From that point until the years following World War II each November 11th was remembered as Amistice Day.

Due the scale of World War II and the number of soldiers and sailors who took part, who were injured, or were killed Amistice Day was broadened to include all veterans of the armed forces for all time.

As you have noticed I’ve been absent a bit over the last few days. I’ve been busy. The historical committee at my church changed up our normal method of recognizing our veterans to include a photo display and video recognizing the men and women of our church who have served their country.

I encourage you to go visit the site using this link which takes you to all of the postings on the blog regarding veterans including a video presentation, pictures of our framed display (61 veterans, so far), and postings for each war era including the pictures of the veterans, their names, and a bit about their service to our country.

The postings involving each war era would be a good place to have students complete research on particular veterans or particular wars or conflicts. In many cases I have linked to the history of our veteran’s battles and ships where I could.

It was an honor and blessing for me to work with these photos and information about each veteran. I hope you click over and enjoy viewing the postings.
This site is still loading slowly....I'm sorry. I may just have to go to my own domain within the next few weeks to solve the problem. At any rate let this site load and follow the link to view some great veterans of our country!