Friday, December 27, 2013

December 25 - Bing Crosby's "I'll Be Home for Christmas"

Bing Crosby ( 1903-1977) sang "I'll Be Home
for Christmas" for a record issued in 1943.
Bing Crosby sang the original "I'll be home for Christmas" in December 1943. Because of Crosby's frequent USO trips, the song was linked from the beginning to the military service personnel stranded overseas during the Christmas season. Here are the lyrics (repeated once):
I'll be home for Christmas; / You can plan on me.
Please have snow and mis-tle-toe / And presents on the tree.
Christmas eve will find me / Where the love light gleams.
I'll be home for Christmas / If only in my dreams.
Although Crosby, despite his public image, was flawed as a father and husband according to a 1983 book by his eldest son Gary (named for Gary Cooper), he was unexcelled as a major purveyor of morale among American troops in World War II Europe. His movies with Bob Hope and Dorothy Lamour were military and civilian favorites.

Monday, December 2, 2013

GEO WASHINGTON | Dec 4–Farewell at Fraunces Tavern, NYC

General George Washington says farewell to his officers.
On this date in 1783, General George Washington tearfully said goodbye to his officers in the Long Room at Fraunces Tavern, 54 Pearl Street (at Broad). The tavern now encompasses a museum.

Washington was described as so overcome with emotion that he was barely able to speak. The context was that the British soldiers left New York City two weeks before. This was the final victory, more than two years after they surrendered at Yorktown, Virginia. In the meantime the under-supplied and overworked Continental Army had narrowly survived several mutinies and, the autumn before, a near-coup. The Treaty of Paris was not signed until September 3, 1783, 20 years after the Treaty of Paris that ended the French and Indian Wars and made the independence of the colonies possible.

Following the signing of the Treaty, General Washington resigned as commander in chief of the Continental Army and retired to his home -- Mount Vernon, Virginia.  He said goodbye to Congress as follows:
Happy in the confirmation of our independence and sovereignty, and pleased with the opportunity afforded the United States of becoming a respectable nation, I resign with satisfaction the appointment I accepted with diffidence; a diffidence in my abilities to accomplish so arduous a task; which however was superseded by a confidence in the rectitude of our cause, the support of the supreme power of the Union, and the patronage of Heaven.
Washington begged Congress to treat the veterans of the Revolutionary War with appreciation:
While I repeat my obligations to the army in general, I should do injustice to my own feelings not to acknowledge, in this place, the peculiar services and distinguished merits of the gentlemen who have been attached to my person during the war. It was impossible the choice of confidential officers to compose my family should have been more fortunate. Permit me, sir, to recommend in particular, those who have continued in the service to the present moment, as worthy of the favorable notice and patronage of Congress.
Washington's return to civilian life transformed a war into a revolution. He had been given dictatorial powers during the war. Some wanted Washington to become king. But he did not want this. Instead, he asked for land to be given to his veteran officers. The western lands offered this possibility.  Washington's farewell to the nation and to his officers was short-lived. Five years later he was elected to the first of his two terms as president of the United States.

OBIT | Nov. 12–Mavis Lever Batey, Codebreaker

Mavis Lever Batey, 1921-2013 (Photo by Daily Telegraph).
Nov. 12, 2013–Mavis Lever Batey died today at 92 years of age. Her knowledge of German from her studies at University College, London, was put to use during World War II to help break German codes based on their Enigma cryptography machine. (This post is based on Daily Telegraph and NY Times obits and on interviews with two people with Bletchley ties.)

She is given major credit for British naval dominance over the Axis when information from the code-breakers at Bletchley Park (aka Station X or Ultra) enabled the Navy to identify the size and coordinates of Italian ships. The British sought out and sank three heavy Italian cruisers and two destroyers. For the rest of the war the stunned Italians stayed clear of the British Navy.

Sir Francis Harry Hinsley, the official historian of British intelligence during World War II, has said that Bletchley Park's work shortened the war by two or more years.

Mavis worked for Dillwyn Knox, known as Dilly. She married another code breaker, Keith Batey, in 1942. After World War  II he became the CFO of Oxford University. He died in 2010. She wrote books about Dilly and Ian Fleming (From Bletchley with Love) at Bletchley, and about the gardens of Oxford.

(Update, May 21, 2014: I just found out that one of Ian Fleming's models for James Bond was Sir William Stephenson, the wartime intelligence liaison between Churchill and FDR; his code name was "Intrepid".  A plaque in honor of "Intrepid" has been posted on the 36th Floor of 30 Rockefeller Plaza, where Sir William had his office.  Other models for Bond reportedly were Fleming's brother, Peter, who had been involved in behind-the-lines operations in Norway and Greece during the war, Conrad O'Brien-ffrench, Patrick Dalzel-Job and Bill "Biffy" Dunderdale. A TV miniseries, "Fleming", is out this year.)

The 2001 movie Enigma starring Kate Winslet is at least party based on Mavis Batey's wartime experience, although Ms. Batey complained that the women code breakers looked too scruffy in the movie.

Bletchley Park employed 12,000 people, including some Americans. The story of "Sam Scram" -- Tom Collins, who died on May 18, 2012, is told in a post on this site on June 9, 2013.

Bletchley Park's significance in WW2 would be hard to overstate.
  • Station X was where Alan Turing devised a way to break the Enigma code.
  • It was where the world's first computer, Colossus, was built.
  • It was where the battle of the Atlantic was won.
  • It saved many lives and shortened the war. 
It is a building of such significance, but the secrecy that protected Bletchley Park throughout the war and for 30 years after it led to the site becoming forgotten. Bletchley Park Director Simon Greenish said:
When you look at Hut 6, which is where the Bletchley story really started with the deciphering of Enigma codes, it's in quite a bad state. The floor has almost completely gone and I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that my garden shed is probably stronger than some of these huts.
Once the home of financier Sir Herbert Leon, Bletchley was taken over during the war for use by the Government Code and Cypher School. After 1945, the site was used by the Post Office and other government bodies until 1991. At that point, the Bletchley Park Trust was established to maintain the site as a museum and Milton Keynes Borough Council declared most of the estate a conservation area.

Greenish believes the huge public support, as shown by rising visitor numbers and online petitions, will help Bletchley Park receive the funds it deserves.

Sunday, December 1, 2013


The book that caused distress.
A week or two ago I had the pleasure of meeting Debbie Fink, one of the authors of a book for the children of military families.

She wrote a book that is intended to support these children.

(I wrote the following supportive post about the book without realizing that it is controversial in the community of military families. I am not changing the post based on the comments after it–otherwise the comments won't make sense. The large number of negative comments about the book following the post stem from pride in the traditional term "BRATs"–and a reluctance to give it up.)

I know what it's like for a child when one parent has to be away from home as part of a job. My Dad was in the United Nations -- literally from its formation -- he was in San Francisco for the U.S. Government delegation in 1945. He traveled all over the world for the next 20 years, after having been away in Europe for the OSS during World War II. So he was away from home more of the year than he was home. We all missed him. His six kids were UN brats. We were very proud of what he did for the world but on the whole we would have preferred he had a job closer to home.

The Little CHAMPS (Child Heroes Attached to Military Personnel) have an additional burden besides a missing parent and the fear that some harm might come to the parent while away. The parent who is away for the military is at a war or conflict or is preparing to go to one. Children have to get used to the idea that someone, somewhere is an enemy of the United States and their parent is in the front line, ready to take a bullet or a bomb for the rest of the country. The Little CHAMPS book (Fink, Fink, and Blackwell, 2012) is written as a tribute to these kids, to honor their service-by-proxy to their country and to offer constructive coping tools for their inherent challenges.

It is also written for civilian children, to give them a window of understanding into the world and challenges faced by their military-connected peers. In this way, the book is a bridge of understanding between the disconnected military and civilian worlds.

The book is promoted by Operation CHAMPs and is supported by the USO, American Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces, the National Association of Elementary School Principals, the Military Child Education Coalition, National Military Family Association, United Through Reading, Armed Services YMCA and Blue Star Families. All five military branches' NGOs are also on board: AUSA Family Readiness, Air Force Association, Navy League, Marine Corps League, and the Coast Guard Foundation.

An estimated 600,000+ 5-12 year old Champs are the target audience. This is a public health and education initiative. Individual copies of The Little CHAMPS are available for purchase for $10 each. This is a useful book and a good cause.

VET STORY 7 | Nov. 28–Friedrich Steuben, "Father of the Modern U.S. Army"

Baron Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben, 1730-1794.
Baron Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben died this day in 1794. He was born September 17, 1730 in the fortress of the Duchy of Magdeburg, in what is now Germany. His father was an engineer with the rank of captain in the military, stationed at the fortress.

Steuben inherited the title of Baron (the lowest level of German nobility, signified by the "von") from his father. The "von" should be dropped when referring to him as an American citizen,which he became.

Steuben is an important figure in U.S. military history because he helped shape up George Washington's army in the long struggle for American independence.

While General George Washington earned the title “father of the American Army” as well as father of his country, Steuben -- who was General Washington's chief of staff in the final years of the war and had the rank of General -- is given the title of “father of the modern American army.”

Steuben was a one-man West Point, teaching the Continental Army what were then the world's most advanced military drills and tactics. He wrote the drill manual that served the American Army until the War of 1812.

Steuben studied in Breslau with Jesuits and was a Prussian military officer at 17. In the Seven Years War (what Americans know as the French and Indian wars), he was in a Prussian infantry unit and a staff officer when the Prussians and their allies, notably Britain under its monarch George II, were defending themselves against the Austrian-French alliance. Steuben gained great experience during these years, becoming a member of the headquarters of the General Staff of the Prussian King Frederick II, a k a Frederick the Great.

In a word, he learned about military strategy and tactics from the world's best military leader of his time. Napoleon described Frederick the Great as the greatest military genius in history.

Two examples of Frederick the Great's strategies that had great importance for the training of George Washington's army, and contributed to the success of the Continental Army, are:
  1. Maneuver to keep enemy forces divided, constantly looking for ways to  divert them from recombining, and 
  2. Use a smaller force to attack a larger one via the tactic of "oblique order", i.e., attacking an opposing force from the flank, thereby cutting off a segment from the main force and defeating it. (Admiral Nelson applied this principle at the Battle of Trafalgar, barging through the enemy line of ships to defeat the larger combination of Spanish and French navies. The French navy lost all of its officers in the French Revolution, because to be an officer in the ancien regime, all four of your grandparents had to be noblesse. The officers fled the country, were killed or went into hiding in some way.)
At the end of the Seven Years War, in 1763, Baron von Steuben was at loose ends. Having stepped on some superior officers' toes in the Prussian army, he had to look elsewhere for work. He first got a job as chamberlain (grand marshal) in the bodyguard of the impecunious and debt-ridden Catholic prince of the small Hohenzollern-Hechingen area of southern Germany, on the borders of Baden and Würtemberg. Von Steuben accompanied the prince on a trip to France in 1771 to seek a substantial loan. After four years, they both returned to Germany in 1775, the trip futile for the prince, who was  now even deeper in debt.

However, the trip was not futile for von Steuben. During his time in France, he met the French Minister of War, Claude Louis, Comte de Saint-Germain. The Comte wanted to help George Washington fight against the British, but in such a way that the British would not know that France was violating its claim of neutrality.

Having been on the losing end of encounters with Frederick's army, the Comte saw the value to General Washington of an officer with Prussian-general-staff training. So he introduced Steuben to Benjamin Franklin, who promptly sent a clever letter to Washington introducing Baron Steuben as "Lieutenant General in the King of Prussia's service". The French then loaned Baron von Steuben travel funds for the trip from Marseilles to Portsmouth, N.H. so that Steuben could present himself to Washington as a volunteer.

On September 26, 1777, the Baron disembarked at Portsmouth with his Italian greyhound Azor and four companions including his young aide-de-camp Louis de Pontière and his military secretary Pierre Etienne Duponceau. Congress was then meeting in York, Pennsylvania, after having been pushed out of Philadelphia by the advancing redcoats. By February 23, 1778, von Steuben had engineered his way to reporting for duty to Washington at Valley Forge.

Once on staff, von Steuben went right to work. With the help of Colonel Alexander Hamilton and General Nathanael Greene, Steuben drafted a training program (and later a manual) for the Army, and had it it approved by Washington:
  • The program began with a "model company" -- 120 chosen men who were trained first without, and then with, arms. This turned out to be a much better approach than simply assigning personnel to regiments to train them. Steuben was looking for a change in the attitude of the soldiers and this was easier to achieve in a smaller group.
  • With this model company at its core, the program went on to train larger groups, at the Regimental and Brigade levels. 
  • Each company commander was made responsible for the training of new men, but instruction was done by sergeants selected for this purpose.
  • Crucially, Steuben trained men in the use of the bayonet. Throughout the early course of the Revolutionary war, Americans used the bayonet mostly as a skewer for cooking meat. Steuben introduced the concept of bayonet charges, and in the Battle of Stony Point, American soldiers attacked with unloaded muskets.
In addition, Steuben helped the young army in establishing guidelines for sanitation and camp layouts that remained standards for another 150 years.
  • Steuben laid out a plan to have rows for command, officers and enlisted men, with company and regimental streets. 
  • Previously, men relieved themselves where they wished. Kitchens and latrines were created on opposite sides of the camp, with latrines on the downhill side.
His eccentricity was part of his mystique. He turned up in full military dress in front of the Continental Army soldiers, who were famously by this time wearing little more than rags. He spoke little English and yelled at the men in German and French. When that and gesticulation/yelling failed, von Steuben recruited Captain Benjamin Walker, his French-speaking aide, to curse at them in English. Steuben wrote out each day's orders in German, Walker translated them into French, and a French-speaking officer would then translate them into English. (This might have been an experience more common in our own lifetimes if the Nazis had won World War II.)

In the end it was all of great value to Washington.  Steuben's training helped win the Battle of Barren Hill, 20 May 1778 and the Battle of Monmouth in June 1778. Steuben, who was by then serving in Washington's headquarters, was the first to figure out that the redcoats were on their way to Monmouth. His early alert made Washington's troops better prepared for battle.

Washington recommended appointment of Steuben as inspector general on April 30, 1778. Congress approved this on May 5. Steuben was given the rank and title of Major General. During the winter of 1778–1779, Steuben prepared Regulations for the Order and Discipline of the Troops of the United States (the "Blue Book"), based on the plan he devised at Valley Forge. At the final campaign at Yorktown, Steuben commanded one of the three divisions of Washington's troops. Steuben gave assistance to Washington in demobilization in 1783 as well as preparing a defense plan of the new nation (the British would be back within 20 years and would occupy New York and burn Washington). He was discharged from the military with honor on March 24, 1783.

Steuben became an American citizen by act of the Pennsylvania legislature in March 1784, and later by New York State in July 1786. Since the United States forswore titles, the "von" should be dropped from his name once he became a U.S. citizen; however, usage varies. With the war over, Steuben resigned from service and first lived in Manhattan. In December 1783, the State of New Jersey presented him with an estate now known as Zabriskie-Steuben House, confiscated from Jan Zabriskie in 1781 for his siding with George III in the Revolution. Steuben eventually sold the estate. In 1790, Congress gave Steuben him a pension of $2,500 a year for life.

Steuben settled ultimately on a small estate in the vicinity of Rome, New York, on land granted to him for his military service. He later helped found the Society of the Cincinnati and was appointed a regent for what became the State University of New York. He never married and had no children. He left his estate to his aides-de-camp General Benjamin Walker and Captain William North. He is said to have had an "extraordinarily intense emotional relationship" with them. He is buried at what is now the Steuben Memorial State Historic Site.

Since 1958, von Steuben Day has been celebrated in New York City, Chicago and Philadelphia every September, the month he was born. It is the German-American event of the year. The Steuben Society was founded in 1919. A warship, a submarine, and an ocean liner later pressed into military service were named in Steuben's honor. Steuben is one of four European military leaders assisting the American rebels who are honored with a statue in Lafayette Square just north of the White House in Washington.

Von Steuben's sexuality was an issue in Germany, and a topic of discussion in the colonies. He left Baden involuntary, having been threatened with prosecution for homosexuality. When he joined Washington's army at Valley Forge in February 1778, it was observed:
  • He was accompanied by two young (one was 17) European aides.
  • Their late-night parties were the subject of gossip. 
However, Steuben was never investigated and received a Congressional pension after the war. Either he violated no colonial laws, or was given a pass because his services were so valuable.

Hershberger, Kevin (Director), Von Steuben's Continentals: The First American Army, 60-minute DVD, LionHeart FilmWorks (2007). Details the life, uniforms, camp life, food, weapons, equipment and drill of the Continental soldier (1775-1781).

Lockhart, Paul (Wright State University, Dayton, Ohio), The Drillmaster of Valley Forge. This is the first major biography of General von Steuben in more than 80 years.