More 511th History: That Time I Was a Russian Major

At some point during my tenure with the 511th MI Company, I was requested by some high-ranking US military officials to help review the readiness of 11th ACR troops. The time was in the late 1980s, and a delegation could show up at any time for a surprise inspection during the drawdown of nuclear armaments in Germany. This was important work, and our senior leadership needed to know that our troops would do the right thing when the time came. On the other hand, they also needed to know that our troops would prevent bad things from happening, too.

With that mind, I was dressed in a Soviet Major's Uniform (from the Tank Corps), assigned a Russian "translator," and I was asked to pretend to be a particularly "difficult" guest during a faux inspection.

Soviet Army Armored Corps Officer Uniform

To be more specific, these high-ranking officials asked me to try getting into all sorts of mischief in order to evaluate how the unsuspecting 11th ACR troops would react. I'm the kind of guy that you don't have to ask twice - I could get into lots of trouble rather quickly, and my victims probably would have been seriously ticked off if they ever suspected that I wasn't who my official escorts said I was.

My translator was SPC Meyers, who was a good friend of mine from the 511th. We were both passably fluent in Russian, which was more than was necessary to fool our unsuspecting victims. All of our personal conversations in Russian were about what was going on, how much fun we were having, where to go for lunch after we were done, what we should do to mess with people, etc. However, whenever I would say something in Russian, my friend would "translate" something entirely different (and often exasperating) to our hosts.

Here's an example:

Me [Saying something innocuous in Russian to my translator.]
Translator "The major would like to see inside an Abrams tank."
11th ACR dude "No, that's off limits."
Translator [Saying something innocuous in Russian to me.]
Me [Saying something innocuous in Russian, but louder and angrier.]
Translator "The major is very upset; he says that's part of his inspection duties."
11th ACR dude "I'm really sorry, and uh - can someone help me? What do I do now?"
Translator [Apologetically in Russian to me: "He'd kick our butts if he knew we were so full of crap."]
Me [Angrily in Russian: "Yeah, but this is so much fun. Still, we'd better not show our faces around here for a few weeks."]

Ah, good times.

Remembering Tucson's Bob Cooke

I grew up in Tucson, and I have fond memories of a local radio DJ that many people in town loved to listen to back in the late 1970s and early 1980s. However, to put things in perspective, radio isn't the same as it used to be; more and more of the contemporary radio programming is syndicated, playlists are dictated by countless business decisions, and - to be honest - fewer and fewer people are listening to radio as it fights to compete with satellite services, streaming apps, and digital audio. (I will admit, I personally listen to a collection of MP3s that are stored on a flash drive whenever I'm traveling in my car these days.)

But back in the late 1970s and early 1980s, radio was king. For most music fans, radio was usually the only way that you discovered new artists, and it was also how you learned that your favorite artists had released their latest albums. There was no Internet back then, and before MTV launched in 1981 there was generally no television coverage for rock music news. In short, if you liked music, there was radio - and that was it.

When I was in High School, there were two rock stations in Tucson: KWFM and KTKT-FM (which would later become KLPX). Each station had their fair share of DJs, and there was one DJ who drifted back and forth between those two stations: Bob Cooke. He was Tucson's premier funny man - he always had the best jokes, but he was never over the top. (Well, perhaps on occasion...)

I recall staying up late on far more nights than I will admit to finish homework assignments as my semesters came to an end, and Bob Cooke always played requests from students all over town who were engaged in similar last-minute pursuits. And Bob was freakin' hilarious about it. I would call and ask for something by Rush or The Doors, then someone else would call and ask for song from a different band, and so on. Bob played them all. He had a ball as he expressed his faux sympathies for all his listeners slaving away with their books and typewriters, and you knew he was glad that he wasn't working on all that homework.

Bob-Cooke-3

One of the particularly amusing parts of Bob's shows was when he was required to read advertising copy live while on the air, because he could never do it without messing with the scripts that he had been handed. I vividly recall one morning when he was reading the advertisements for Farmer John's Sausage Links, which Bob humorously changed to "Farmer John's Wieners." He kept saying the rest of advertising copy incorrectly, and therefore he had to keep starting over. However, restarting the script mean that he would eventually run out of the music that was supposed to play in the background, so he would have to start over - again and again. The entire episode was side-splittingly funny, and I laughed so hard I probably cried...

Bob-Cooke-4

People who grew up in the "Naked Pueblo" (as Cooke used to call Tucson) will remember that Bob was tragically killed by a deranged radio listener in August, 1982. (See https://bit.ly/2RswW5o.) People throughout the Tucson valley mourned his untimely death at the young age of just 28 years.

Bob-Cooke-1

It's hard to believe that it's already been 38 years since his murder, because I can still remember countless hours listening to Bob's priceless and bizarre sense of humor. I'm sure that he would have retired years ago if he had had the chance to live a full and happy life, which means both Bob and the classic radio format that made him famous might have been able to ride off into the Arizona sunset together.

route-66

Happy Treason Day 2020!

In honor of today's date - July 4th, 2020 - I posted the following meme to social media.

Happy-Treason-Day-Ungrateful-Colonials

Most people appreciated the humor as it was intended. However, to understand the funniest part about that meme, you have to study American History. And by doing so, you learn that the early American colonists REALLY WERE a bunch of ungrateful colonials.

The "Taxation Without Representation" that the American Colonists were so quick to condemn was really England asking the colonists to pick up the financial burden for their recent freedom from French rule. The King of England had recently pushed the French out of the American colonies, but the average British citizen was sick of having to foot the bill for bailing out those pesky American colonials. So the King of England shifted the financial burden of freeing the American colonies back onto the American colonists, who resented the thought of having to pay for their own freedom, so they kicked the British out of America. The King of France, still licking his wounds from France's loss to England, gave the American colonists the money to do so. However, the average French citizen resented having to foot the bill for bailing out those pesky American colonials, so they overthrew their monarchy and killed the king.

And all of this was because the American colonists were a bunch of selfish jerks.

With that in mind, I say once again: "Happy Treason Day - You Ungrateful Colonials!"

Open-mouthed smile

The Racist Roots of Popular Product Names

There has been a great deal of public outcry in the wake of several companies' decisions to drop objectionable marketing identities from their advertising, most notably the characters of Aunt Jemima, Uncle Ben, Mrs. Butterworth, etc. (Note: I consistently use all three of those products; I hope that these companies' decisions do not alter anything but the product names.)

In any event, someone I know posted the following image to social media. As you might expect, several people responded to this image by claiming that the companies' decisions to rename their products and drop the marketing identities are an overreaction. And in the case of Aunt Jemima, their assertion was that it would erase the image of a successful African American woman.

Aunt-Jemima-Deception

There was a great deal of banter about erasing history in the name of social justice on the thread, which one person paraphrased as, "people are gonna see what they wanna see." What is ironic, however, is that most of the people failed to read the rest of the Wikipedia article about Nancy Green at https://bit.ly/2AGB6C6. Here's an excerpt to illustrate some of what they missed:

"Biography: Nancy Green was born into slavery on November 17, 1834, near Mount Sterling in Montgomery County, Kentucky.[4] She was hired in 1890 by the R.T. Davis Milling Company in St. Joseph, Missouri, to represent 'Aunt Jemima', an advertising character named after a song from a minstrel show.[3] Davis Milling had recently acquired the formula to a ready-mixed, self-rising pancake flour from St. Joseph Gazette editor Chris L. Rutt and Charles Underwood and were looking to employ an African-American woman as a Mammy archetype to promote their new product.[6]"

Now look up the "Mammy Archetype" at https://bit.ly/2zHHI2n:

"A mammy, also spelled mammie, is a U.S. stereotype, especially in the South, for a black woman who worked in a white family and nursed the family's children. The mammy figure is rooted in the history of slavery in the United States. Enslaved black females were tasked with domestic and childcare work in white American enslaver households. "

So here's the real story: while the actress herself, Nancy Green, may have found a modicum of success, she did so by portraying a racist caricature of herself. However, the text that is appended above the Wikipedia excerpt isn't true; Green was only hired as a spokesperson, and she was not a millionaire. The actual pancake product was created by Chris L. Rutt and Charles G. Underwood, not Green. When Rutt and Underwood couldn't make their product a success, they sold their recipe to the Davis Milling Company, who renamed their company after a racist stereotype from vaudeville shows of their day (see https://bit.ly/2YdmRO7).

Aunt-Jemima-Origins

So in deference to the original image that was posted, the Aunt Jemima character has extremely racist roots in history. With that in mind, it's not a question of people only seeing what they wish to see, it's a question of people choosing what they wish to ignore.

Coloring Historical Photographs - June 11th Edition

Following up on the B-17 image that I posted yesterday, here's a quick animation that illustrates how I added successive layers of color to create the finished image.

FYI - a few layers were combined to make the animation a little shorter, and the images in the video are not necessarily in the order that I colored them. I created a series of images based on the layers that I had created, but I did so after I had finished the image.

Freedom, Fanaticism, and Flags

Today I'd like to tackle what seems to be an uncomfortable topic these days: freedom of speech. The impetus for my discussion is that one of my family members recently posted a link to the following petition:

Remove the Confederate Flag From All Government Places

For me, the Confederate flag represents a failed attempt by a group of rebellious traitors to secede from the Union in order to keep their slaves, and I largely feel that way about statues of Confederate Generals like Robert E Lee. The Confederate Generals were traitors, and they do not deserve our adoration. There's a reason why we don't keep statues of Benedict Arnold around; despite his heroism and triumphs as a General for the Continental Army, Arnold sold out his country and fled to England, and his name has become synonymous with traitorship.

I say all of this in order to reinforce the point that if the Confederate flag went away tomorrow, I wouldn't miss it any more than I miss the Swastika. But here's some food for thought: the predominant argument that I see against the Confederate flag is that racist idiots use that flag as a symbol; but think about it - these same idiots also use the United States flag, and they also use the Christian cross. What should we ban, then? Should we also ban the flag of the United States? Should we also ban crosses? Where should we draw the line on what we allow in our society? When will enough be enough?

For some people, the Confederate flag is a symbol of hate, whereas for other people it represents their cultural origin. I personally think those people are misguided, but still - we do not complain about people who fly a Mexican flag to show pride in their heritage. Or a German flag. Or a Canadian flag. At my house we fly an Irish flag on St Patrick's Day in honor of my Irish roots. Let's make this more personal - should we deny someone the right to display an Iranian or Chinese flag just because our nation is upset with their nation of origin? Or should we respect their freedom of speech and allow them to display their pride in their heritage?

At the end of the day, the racist idiots of our society can use any emblem they choose as they spew their toxic filth, but that doesn't make the emblem itself a bad thing. If we're not banning Christian crosses, which have been used by the KKK and other stupid domestic terror organizations for over a century, then I think we can let the misguided people who think that the Confederate flag is a representation of their cultural heritage have their freedom of speech. That is what living in a free society is all about.

Once you start banning every symbol of cultural heritage that offends you, then you might as well start banning books next. And when banning books isn't effective enough, you might want to start burning books. And when burning books isn't effective enough, you might want to start locking up the people who write or say things that offend you. And when locking up the people who offend you isn't effective enough, then you're one short step away from becoming the very evil that you despise. Returning to my earlier thought, I have no love for the Confederate flag; to me, it is a symbol of cowardice, greed, immorality, and rebellion. But to ban the Confederate flag would deny others their Constitutional right to freedom of speech, and therein lies one of the fundamental dilemmas of living in a free society. Sometimes the problem with an idealistic goal like banning a flag is that it fails to take the full picture of its ramifications into account.

Let me close with an apropos thought from Adlai Stevenson: "My definition of a free society is a society where it is safe to be unpopular. Where it's safe to say what’s on your mind, especially when everyone disagrees. Where it's safe to believe what you believe, especially when everyone else’s beliefs stand elsewhere. Where it’s safe to swim against the current and be perfectly safe from the other fish."

With that in mind, my personal objections to the Confederate flag are secondary to others' right to freedom of speech, and that's exactly how it should be. Freedom of speech does not guarantee freedom from offense; to have freedom, you must accept its consequences.


UPDATE: I occasionally watch John Oliver's Last Week Tonight, and a few years ago he posted the following video, wherein he presented some of the same feelings that I have about Confederate symbols; namely that most of them belong in a museum. We should not attempt to erase all symbols of darkness from our sordid history, but we should place some of those symbols in the proper context, and I think that a museum is the best way to do that.

Coloring Historical Photographs - June 10th Edition

I found another interesting photo in an aviation forum that looked like a good candidate for colorizing, in this case it was the crew of the "Hell's Angel's" B-17 adding the numbers for their latest bombing mission. (Which looks to be just shy of 40 missions.)

B17-Hells-Angels-Before-and-After

You can read more about this B-17 at: https://bit.ly/3hvp4Mg.

By the way, for those who've never seen it before, Jimmy Stewart helped create an Air Force Training/Recruitment film in 1942, wherein he describes the duties and responsibilities of a B-17 crew. (Although if you know your B-17 history, you can tell that the video is of a very early version of the aircraft, and not the version that saw most of the combat during the war. Can anyone else point out the most-important differences?)

PS - Despite having created this film, during the war Jimmy Stewart flew B-24s.

Winking smile

Coloring Historical Photographs - June 3rd Edition

I found another interesting photo in an aviation forum that looked like a good candidate for colorizing, and here's the "Before and After" views. I can't imagine how cold it was in these WWII airplanes, but the scarf, gloves, leather boots and fleece lining that the pilot is wearing would seem to suggest that it was pretty cold. It's because of sacrifices from guys like this that we still have England.

Sailor-Malan-Before-and-After

After a bit of research, it appears that was a photo of Adolph Gysbert Malan, and you can read more about him here: Sailor Malan: a Battle of Britain Pilot.

Those Who Do Not Learn from History...

There is an old adage which states, "Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it," and I think that history is replete with examples that have proven that statement again and again. It is from that same perspective that I would like to share the following thoughts from one of President John F. Kennedy speeches, which are just as true for today's world as they were true in his circumstance almost 50 years ago.

JFK"The fires of frustration and discord are burning in every city, North and South, where legal remedies are not at hand. Redress is sought in the streets, in demonstrations, parades, and protests which create tensions and threaten violence and threaten lives.

We face, therefore, a moral crisis as a country and a people. It cannot be met by repressive police action. It cannot be left to increased demonstrations in the streets. It cannot be quieted by token moves or talk. It is a time to act in the Congress, in your State and local legislative body and, above all, in all of our daily lives.

It is not enough to pin the blame on others, to say this a problem of one section of the country or another, or deplore the facts that we face. A great change is at hand, and our task, our obligation, is to make that revolution, that change, peaceful and constructive for all. Those who do nothing are inviting shame, as well as violence. Those who act boldly are recognizing right, as well as reality."

11 June 1963

You can read and listen to the full text of this speech on the JFK Library website by using the following link:

Radio and Television Report to the American People on Civil Rights, June 11, 1963

Coloring Historical Photographs - May 29th Edition

I found another image on an aviation forum, that I thought might be fun to colorize. To be honest, I did it rather quickly, so there are less layers than I had been using for some of the other images that I had done.

Jet-Pilot-Before-and-After

Some time later, I discovered that this was an image from LIFE magazine of Major Wallace Frank, which was dated September, 1948. (That was kind of a surprise; I would have thought that it was from a decade later.)

Even though I found this image on an aviation forum, while I was researching the image to see who was in it, I found it's information at: https://bit.ly/2zC1aOb.