Digging holes here and there in American history.

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Friday, December 12, 2014


In 1944, the Navy rescued Louisiana Tech and its football program.

World War II turned collegiate athletics upside down as young men swapped athletic uniforms for military ones, joining the service to fight in North Africa, Europe and the Pacific.

Louisiana Tech was not immune. Student athletes who would have been playing college football instead were serving their country, forcing Bulldog football to be discontinued during the 1943 season. Professors were joining the cause as well while coeds were signing up with the Red Cross, the WACs—Women’s Army Corps—and the Navy WAVES—Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service.
V-12 sailors and Marines and other students leaving chapel, Louisiana Tech, 1944

Legendary Bulldog head coach Joe Aillet even changed roles in 1943 as the University put football on the backburner as the flames of war spread across the globe. Aillet did his

Tuesday, December 9, 2014


The year 1955 saw American consumerism skyrocket with the opening with the first McDonald’s Restaurant and the debut of Disneyland. Fast food, including the first TV dinners, and canned Coca-Cola attested to the growth of the country’s standard of living since World War II. Ownership of a car became the mandatory status symbol for American families. But the development of nuclear weapons by the Soviet Union troubled everyone.

In the 1950s, the Cold War was steadily building with many Americans convinced nuclear war with the Soviet Union was inevitable. Some military officials even advocated a first strike to take out the Soviets, although it would mean the annihilation of some American targets in retaliation.

In 1955, the U.S. military conducted a large training exercise encompassing a substantial portion of Louisiana. The purpose of “Operation Sagebrush” was to evaluate the effectiveness of military operations in a nuclear war. The largest joint Army and Air Force maneuvers since World War II involved nearly 150,000 troops.

A provisional army, meant to represent U.S. forces, was built around the 1st Armored Division and an opposing force was created around the 82nd Airborne Division. Air Force bombers, fighter planes, and other aircraft crisscrossed Louisiana’s skies, stirring great interest among the many citizens who had never seen a helicopter.

Many communities throughout Louisiana were inundated with troops and airmen. Ruston saw the arrival of an ordnance detail of the Air Force’s 727th Aircraft Control and Warning Squadron in October before the maneuvers began. As many as 700 airmen

Monday, August 25, 2014


 A carpetbagger endures north Louisiana resistance

      When white Southerners referred to “carpetbaggers” in the years following the Civil War, they had in mind men like Marshall Twitchell.
      Born in Vermont, Twitchell joined the Union army at the start of the war and fought in many of the major battles in Virginia. Severely wounded at the battle of the Wilderness when a bullet entered his skull through his eye, he was left for dead by army surgeons. After a miraculous recovery, Twitchell served as an officer for a black regiment composed mainly of ex-slaves. Unlike other carpetbaggers who journeyed into the South after the war, often to exploit and loot the defeated Confederate states, Twitchell became an agent of the Freedmen's Bureau in Sparta in Bienville Parish to assist emancipated slaves in their transition to freedom.
Marshall Twitchell
      Twitchell met and married a local woman, Adele Coleman, the daughter of prominent Bienville Parish planter Isaac Coleman. Twitchell acquired land on Lake Bistineau and down the Red River to Coushatta, where he established a veritable Yankee colony of his Vermont relatives at a plantation called Starlight.
      In 1868 Twitchell entered local politics and, with the support of newly enfranchised black voters, was elected as a Republican to the state senate. He was responsible for the creation of Red River Parish with Coushatta as the parish seat. Twitchell appointed blacks to local government and placed his three brothers-in-law in the choice posts of sheriff, tax assessor, and clerk of court.


     The recent efforts to integrate women into America’s combat units signify a far different attitude than the enormous resistance they faced during World War II.  Female participation in the U.S. Armed Forces during the global conflict was a major turning point in the military’s relationship with women. 
     Facing a worldwide, two-front war, the United States followed the example of Great Britain and supplemented it all-male fighting force with women in numerous noncombatant roles. Women served in the Army and Navy Nurse Corps, Women's Army Corps (WAC), and in the Navy (WAVES), Coast Guard, and Marine Corps. Although not officially members of the armed forces, Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) provided critical support for the war effort by ferrying airplanes. Other women worked with the military through organizations such as the American Red Cross, the USO, and the Civil Air Patrol.
     At the beginning of World War II, the United States had no facilities, staff, or regulations in place to handle enemy prisoners. Hastily constructed POW camps popped up across America, mostly in the South and Midwest.  One of the largest was near Ruston but its first inhabitants were not enemy POWs but some of the first American women affiliated with the U.S. Army. Due to the initial slow influx of captured soldiers, the facility first served as a basic training base for the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps. 
     President Franklin Roosevelt set a goal of enlisting 25,000 WAACs by June 30, 1943. WAAC recruiting exceeded the objective by November 1942 and the sole training center at Fort Des Moines, Iowa reached its capacity.  New training centers opened at Fort Devens, Massachusetts; Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia; and Camp Ruston.
New WAAC recruits arrive at Camp Ruston, 1943.  (U.S. Army photo)

Sunday, December 15, 2013


These are photos from some of my travels to historical sites over the past four years.

National D-Day Memorial, Bedford, Virginia

Re-creation of the assault on Ponte du Hoc, Normandy, France on D-Day
National D-Day Memorial, Bedford, VA

Grave of unknown Confederate soldier, Petersburg National Cemetery
Confederate soldiers and black Union troops were buried side by side.

Recreated fort at Petersburg National Battlefield, VA

Saturday, July 13, 2013


     Arlington National Cemetery across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C. performs nearly 30 funeral services each day.  Most of burials are military veterans from World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and the current Middle East conflicts or their spouses.
     March 9 was no different with one exception—one funeral was held to inter two sailors in what was most likely the last burial of Civil War casualties at Arlington.  The sailors were members of the crew of the famed Union ironclad USS Monitor.

     Designed by John Ericsson in June 1861, the Monitor was an armored ship with the first-ever rotating turret atop a hull that barely cleared the water. Its high-technology vibrating lever steam engine was groundbreaking technology as well. Ericsson hurried his ship’s completion, assembling it in 118 days at the naval yard in Brooklyn Navy Yard.

Saturday, June 22, 2013


     I recently visited one of the 750 prisoner of war camps established in the United States during World War II.  While there's not much left of Camp Monticello, Arkansas, many of the features of the facility are still evident in a thick pine forest.  Most WWII POW camps in the U.S. have been completely razed with no trace remaining.
     Camp Monticello housed Italian prisoners of war captured in North Africa and Italy.  Other camps housed German prisoners and the few Japanese who allowed themselves to be captured.
     After the war, most camps were dismantled immediately, with the buildings provided to other government entities or sold to the public.
      Here are some photos from my exploration:
POW camps were like small cities, with their own  utilities--water, electricity, sewer system.  Camp Monticello is dotted  with fire hydrants and other remnants of infrastructure.

      See more and enlarge the photos...


March 12, 1872
Vienna, Jackson Parish, Louisiana

      Although every community in the South suffered deprivations and despair during the Civil War, some were spared the horrors of armies turning their cotton fields and pastures into battlefields.  North central Louisiana, between Monroe and Shreveport and from north of Alexandria to the Arkansas state line, was such a pocket never penetrated in force by Yankee invaders until the war ended and Reconstruction began.
     The small town of Vienna, then in Jackson Parish, was located in the center of this pocket.  Vienna watched the war go by as plantation owners marched their slaves west toward refuge in Texas and meager military supplies came through headed east.  Confederate armies marched through and trained on the outskirts of town but the fighting never reached the little village.  The real war, North Louisiana’s war, began with chaos of Reconstruction as white Democrats fought Radical Republican control of local offices and state government with the assistance of federal troops.  More blood flowed from lawlessness and clashes with the government and freed blacks than was ever experienced in the region during the war.  Vigilantism was the norm to correct perceived wrongs that the carpetbag government refused to rectify.
     But Vienna thrived after the war, rivaling the parish seat of Vernon in size.  It boasted hotels and a number of stores and churches and even cultural activities.  There was a dancing school, operated by two men—Peace and Whatley—who also gave lessons in Vernon and perhaps elsewhere in Jackson Parish.  Rumors abounded, however, about what was really happening at the men’s dance studio.  There was something sinister and disturbing about the men.  Supposedly, they were from Natchitoches but had spent time in Texas where one of them had killed a man.

    On the evening of March 12, 1872, a young local man who had imbibed too much liquor accompanied Peace into Dr. Jackson’s drug store.  The man was loud and obnoxious.  Jackson told the rowdy youth to leave the store.  He snapped back with a rude remark and the doctor replied in kind.  Peace then stepped forward in support of the youth and made remarks of his own.  "Do you take it up?"  the doctor asked.  The men were now in front of the store where 54-year old John Huey, Jr., and Whatley, Peace's partner, were standing.  The exchange of words led Huey to step forward to back up Dr. Jackson and say, "Fighting is the game, is it?" 

Monday, March 11, 2013



They were born in County Clare, poor as the rocky Irish soil, and came to America for a new start after their parents died. One became a popular public servant, the other a brutish killer.
Mayor Andrew Currie

In 1849, Jim and Andrew Currie sailed with their older brother Michael from Cork, Ireland. Andy was only six, Jim two years older. Landing at Boston, the brothers settled in New York City. In 1859 at age 16, Andrew ventured out on his own and found employment in Shreveport as a store clerk. After serving the Confederacy in the Civil War, Andrew returned to Shreveport as a deputy sheriff. His fortune rose as a very successful insurance agent and influential businessman. Elected mayor of Shreveport as a Democrat in 1878, Andy Currie developed the city’s first water and sewer systems and built a bridge across the Red River while maintaining financial interests in the railroad and other business ventures.

The life of brother Jim took a different direction. One writer called Jim Currie “one of the most depraved specimens that ever visited the western country. He was the embodiment of everything bad and disreputable, the very quintessence of all wickedness, and a living personification of crime in its worst forms, without a single redeeming quality. No person was safe against his attacks; his murderous weapons were aimed at all alike.”

“Big Jim” Currie killed more than a dozen, maybe many more than that. Most were outright murders. For instance, in 1870 he went on a drunken rampage in a Kansas dance hall and killed two men and two women. Big Jim Currie was said to be the only man Wild Bill Hickok feared.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

A Fixin' Up at the White House

During the renovations to the White House in the late 1940s and early 50s, President Harry Truman and wife Bess stayed across the street in the Blair House.  On November 1, 1950, two men attempted to enter Blair House to kill Truman.  One White House police officer was killed and another wounded in the biggest shootout in history involving the Secret Service.  One of the attackers was killed and the other wounded.

It was in high school American history that I learned of the attempt on Truman's life and the reason he was residing at Blair House.  But I had no idea of the magnitude of the renovations until I saw these photos.  

The White House was literally gutted and the interior rebuilt.  See the slideshow at this webpage:


If you search "White House renovation" at flickr.com, you will find even more photos.

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