Category Archives: History

History: VJ Day in Times Square

A number of people have come forward over the years, claiming to be either the sailor or the nurse in this iconic photo. It happened so quickly, and the scene became so chaotic, that photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt was unable to get their names. Uploaded by

It’s a thing of wonderment when a photographer can capture the mood of an entire nation in a moment of spontaneous excitement. When a great photographer like Alfred Eisenstaedt accomplishes it and publishes it in the pages of Life Magazine (Great American Things, May 19, 2011), the country’s leader in photojournalism, it achieves iconic status.

Alfred Eisenstaedt, by Mark Lennihan, AP.

It was early evening on August 14, 1945, and President Truman had just announced Japan’s surrender, and people began to flock to Times Square to celebrate. Right before the streets became crowded with revelers, Eisenstaedt saw his opportunity developing. The sailor was “running along the street grabbing any and every girl in sight,” Eisenstaedt said. “Whether she was a grandmother, stout, thin, old, didn’t make any difference.”

The memorable kiss between the sailor and the nurse has been a subject of curiosity ever since, because Eisenstaedt didn’t have the opportunity to get the subjects’ names. Dozens of people have laid claim to that distinction over the years, but the identities are destined to remain unverified. You have to love Life’s caption to the photo: In New York’s Times Square a white-clad girl clutches her purse and skirt as an uninhibited sailor plants his lips squarely on hers.

History: Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, also called the Tomb of the Unknowns, is guarded 24 hours a day, every day of the year. Guards are changed each hour except in summer, when the change is each half hour. Uploaded by

Several years following World War I, Congress approved the burial of an unknown soldier at Arlington Cemetery. The process for selecting the soldier to be honored has remained essentially the same since that time. Several identical caskets containing the remains of an unidentified soldier are prepared, and a highly decorated veteran of that war makes the selection at random. That coffin comes to Arlington; the others are buried with honors at foreign battlefield cemeteries.

The procedure has been followed for the World War II, the Korean War, and Vietnam. Surprisingly, considering the all-consuming nationwide effort that led to victory in the second world war, the unknown soldier for that war and for Korea weren’t interred at Arlington until 1958.

Uploaded by

The tomb itself is guarded 24 hours a day, and the guard is changed each half hour in summer, each hour the rest of the year. Those soldiers performing this prestigious guard duty don’t wear rank insignia on their uniforms, so they don’t outrank the Unknowns.

One factor unknown to the world when the monument was revealed in 1921 is DNA. According to the Arlington National Cemetery website:

The remains of the Vietnam Unknown were exhumed May 14, 1998. Based on mitochondrial DNA testing, DoD scientists identified the remains as those of Air Force 1st Lt. Michael Joseph Blassie, who was shot down near An Loc, Vietnam, in 1972. It has been decided that the crypt that contained the remains of the Vietnam Unknown will remain vacant.

History: The Berlin Airlift

The Soviets hoped to bring West Berlin under its sphere of influence by keeping western Allies out - and starving the city's 2.8 million residents was the price it was willing to pay. Uploaded by

At the conclusion of World War II, both the western Allies and the Soviet Union wanted Germany under their sphere of influence. The defeated country was divided into four sections (French, British, American, Soviet), as was the city of Berlin. That city, however, was 100 miles inside the Soviet sector. And Stalin wanted all of Berlin under his control. As a result, he stopped trains bringing in crucial food and other supplies to the vanquished city, hoping to gain total control.

Uploaded to Flickr by x-ray delta one.

The devastate German capital could only produce two percent of its food needs. Outside supplies were a humanitarian necessity. While the western Allies had never negotiated land links to Berlin, they had secured three air routes into the city. To prevent a catastrophe, and to keep the entire city from falling under Soviet power, this was the daily supply total needed to support Berlin’s 2.8 million people, according to Wikipedia: “646 tons of flour and wheat, 125 tons of cereal, 64 tons of fat, 109 tons of meat and fish, 180 tons of dehydrated potatoes, 180 tons of sugar, 11 tons of coffee, 19 tons of powdered milk, 5 tons of whole milk for children, 3 tons of fresh yeast for baking, 144 tons of dehydrated vegetables, 38 tons of salt and 10 tons of cheese. In total, 1,534 tons were needed daily to keep the over two million people alive.Additionally, the city needed to be kept heated and powered, which would require another 3,475 tons of coal and gasoline.”

The U.S. and Britain agreed that the only course of action was an airlift. Yet they could only use a medium-size cargo plane (the C-54), due to runway limitations. At first, the Allies managed to bring in 1,000 tons of supplies each day – 5,000 tons were needed. It took a month of improved procedures and logistics, but eventually the full 5,000 tons were delivered daily. The airlift continued for most of a year, eventually humiliating the Soviets into capitulating. West Berlin continued as a free island as a result of President Truman’s commitment to turning back the Soviet threats – and as a result of thousands of American pilots, crewmen, and ground personnel who made the operation a success.

History: Jamestown


The Jamestown settlement was about to fail, but then it found a crop it could sell to the folks back home for supplies and food. The crop that saved Jamestown? Tobacco. Uploaded by

What Sir Walter Raleigh and his Roanoke Island colonists failed to accomplish, the Jamestown settlers achieved: the first permanent English settlement in the New World. The first settlers arrived on Jamestown island on May 14, 1607, and though they endured hunger and disease and other hardships, they persevered.

Uploaded by

“Permanent” is somewhat misleading in this context, however. The settlement finally thrived once it based its economy on a profitable crop, tobacco. And Jamestown was the capital of the colony of Virginia until 1699, when it was moved to Williamsburg. Following that, Jamestown actually consisted mostly of farms, and housed no actual village.

Today, visitors to Jamestown can visit two historic exhibits, one operated by Virginia and one by the National Park Service. Jamestown Settlement grew out of Jamestown Festival Park, an exhibit created in 1957 to commemorate the 350th anniversary of the settlement. Nearby is Historic Jamestowne, which has focused on unearthing archaeological relics that help tell what life in 17th century Virginia was like.

Most visitors to Jamestown stay in Williamsburg, which is connected to Jamestown by the historic Colonial Parkway – an enjoyable drive in itself.

Travel: The Ahwahnee Hotel



Imagine the task of getting 5,000 tons of stone, 1,000 tons of steel, and 30,000 tons of lumber to a remote location - in 1927. Photo by QT Luong, uploaded by

As you can see by the tags for this entry, the Ahwahnee Hotel earns its way on this list in several ways. It’s a great hotel, so Travel. It’s been a part of Yosemite National Park Since its creation in 1927, so History. And it’s a combination of the architectural elements of the Art Deco and Arts and Crafts movements, so The Arts.

Uploaded by

The site for the Ahwahnee was chosen because it looks out on several of the most distinctive features of Yosemite, including Yosemite Falls and Glacier Point. It’s constructed of rough-cut granite, and what appears to be wood siding is actually poured concrete stained the color of pine bark and redwood. You can imagine the complexity of getting 5,000 tons of stone, 1,000 tons of steel, and 30,000 tons of timber to this remote location in 1927.

As a hotel, this 4-Diamond property provides 99 rooms, parlors, and suites, as well as 24 additional cottages. It offers a range of amenities that almost mock the idea of it being in a national park, from turn-down service to afternoon tea. If you choose to go, be sure and cash out some CDs — the cheapest room for a simple room with no breakfast is over $400…

History: The Tuskegee Airmen


Members of the Tuskegee Airman earned 150 Distinguished Flying Crosses, 744 Air Medals, 8 Purple Hearts, and 14 Bronze Stars. Uploaded by

During World War II, the U.S. military forces were completely segregated. African-Americans who desired to serve their country had to do so in racially separate units. One group that served with particular distinction was the men of the 332nd Fighter Group and the 477th Bombardment Group of the U.S. Army Air Corps (now the Air Force). They became known as the Tuskegee Airmen.

Uploaded by

Their name came from their place of training, Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. The school had led the way in training young black men in the Civilian Pilot Training Program, so when the War Department needed a home for the new fighters, TI became the logical choice. In addition to pilots, they trained to fill all necessary crew positions, including navigators and bombardiers.

Their combat record was outstanding. They flew more than 15,000 sorties, destroyed 112 enemy planes in the air (and another 150 on the ground), and the group’s members earned 150 Distinguished Flying Crosses.

In 2007, President George W. Bush honored 350 members of the unit with the Congressional Gold Medal. At a time when the intelligence, patriotism, and work ethic of African-Americans was in question, the Tuskegee Airmen did their part to dispel prejudice and bigotry.

History: Women’s Suffrage

Women used rallies, parades, civil disobedience - whatever it took to get attention - in their efforts to gain the right to vote. This rally was in NYC in 1912. Uploaded by

The people of the time were adamant – women couldn’t be given the right to vote. And why couldn’t they? Well, went the (masculine) reasoning, women are so frail, and may not even be able to handle the arduous task of getting to the polls. And they’re prone to hysteria, how could they possibly make rational choices? Not to mention how unqualified they are, how given to reaching rash or emotional conclusions.

Uploaded by

Fortunately, there were strong women (and men) who saw through these and the other arguments that now seem bigoted. The movement began before the Civil War, and many of the women involved were also active in the abolitionist and temperance movements.

Many of the leaders are known to us: Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Alice Paul. But the century-long struggle involved thousands of women, in virtually every state, who didn’t give up their dream or compromise their principles.

Finally, on August 26, 1920, the 19th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, granting American women the right to vote. Tennessee became the state that gave the amendment its required 3/4 of the states. And, odd as it now seems, Mississippi didn’t finally become the 50th state to ratify until 1984. That’s right, 1984. Mississippi, you must be so proud.

History: America Sends a Man into Space

The suborbital flight lasted only 15 1/2 minutes, but lifted American morale and made Alan Shepard a national hero. Uploaded by

His name was Alan Shepard, and he was the second man – and first American – into space. His flight took place on May 5, 1961.

The second man, because the USSR had sent up Yuri Gagarin less than a month earlier. The space race wasn’t a matter of dueling technologies, but of competing ideologies. For America, the challenge to beat the Russians into space paralleled the struggle to achieve political superiority over Communism.

Shepard safely completed his 15½ minute flight and became an instant hero. He had sat in a nose cone on top of a Redstone rocket and been exploded into the atmosphere. He received accolades, parades, and met President Kennedy. His successful mission motivated the President to appear before a joint session of Congress just a few weeks later and challenge the country to send a man to the moon “before this decade is out.”

Shepard went on to become the fifth man to walk on the moon. He’s the one who took the famous golf shot. By the way, when asked what he was thinking while sitting in the capsule waiting to be launched into space, he replied, “The fact that every part of this ship was built by the low bidder.”

History: The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum takes visitors from the rise of the Nazis to the liberation of the concentration camps by Allied troops. Uploaded by

In the twentieth century, Stalin killed some 20 million people, Mao killed even more – at least 50 million. As evil as these men were, as incomprehensible their evil, they killed in order to gain and hold power. Adolph Hitler attempted to annihilate an entire people.

Uploaded by

Located on the National Mall in Washington, DC, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum was created to help us recognize these horrors in hopes that genocide can be recognized and confronted.

Opened in 1993, the Museum has received visitors from all over the world, and fewer than ten percent are Jewish. Its focal point is the Hall of Remembrance, where visitors can light a candle and meditate at the eternal flame.

The permanent exhibition spans three floors of the Museum and takes visitors on a chronological journey, from Nazi ascendancy in Germany to the “Final Solution” to the liberation of the concentration camps by Allied troops. It uses 900 artifacts, 70 video monitors, and four theaters (with historic film footage and eyewitness testimonies) to tell the story.

The lesson of the Holocaust Memorial Museum is best summed up in the words of Yehuda Bauer, professor of holocaust studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem: “I come from a people who gave the Ten Commandments to the world. Time has come to strengthen them by three additional ones, which we ought to adopt and commit ourselves to: thou shall not be a perpetrator; thou shall not be a victim; and thou shall never, but never, be a bystander.”

History: The Arizona Memorial

More than 2,700 Americans died at Pearl Harbor. We're fortunate it wasn't a lot more. Uploaded by

Franklin Roosevelt said these memorable words: “Yesterday, Dec. 7, 1941 – a date which will live in infamy – the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.”

Just over 2,400 Americans were killed at Pearl Harbor; 1,177 of them were crewmen on the Battleship Arizona. The eight battleships in port were the primary target, and all were seriously damaged or sunk. All but the Arizona and the Oklahoma were eventually repaired and returned to service, however.

Uploaded by

In 1953, the Admiral in charge of the Pacific fleet ordered that a flagpole be erected above the sunken remains of the Arizona, and five years later President Eisenhower approved the creation of the Memorial. It was dedicated in 1962, and today hosts more than a million visitors each year.

Even today, a small amount of oil continues to rise from the wreckage to the surface of the water. Some call this “the tears of the Arizona.”

History: Ellis Island

Those who came to the US as first and second class passengers didn't come to Ellis Island. But the poor, the hard cases, entered there. Uploaded by

For the twelve million immigrants who came through Ellis Island, and their now 100 million descendants, these 27.5 acres are sacred ground.

Hundreds of thousands of would-be Americans were processed at Ellis Island each year between 1892 and 1924, when immigration was strictly curtailed. Its busiest year was 1907, when just over a million people were processed. Its busiest day ever was that April 17, when 11,747 immigrants arrived. The center stayed open until 1954, serving mainly as a site for processing those to be detained or deported.

The vast majority of arrivals came aboard huge steamships. Those traveling first and second class received a brief screening aboard ship, but weren’t processed at Ellis Island. The belief was that if you could afford those tickets, you had the resources to make it without public assistance. Upon arriving in New York, they were free to go.

Those traveling third class or “steerage” had an altogether different experience. If their papers were in order and they were reasonably healthy, their processing took somewhere from three to five hours. Doctors were so used to seeing certain conditions that they were often able to pull the sick out out by a visual inspection. These became known as “six-second physicals.”

Uploaded by

Ellis Island became part of the National Park Service in 1966 as part of the Statue of Liberty National Monument, its neighbor a half mile to the north. There’s an amazing museum on Ellis Island today, and you can get there by ferry from Jersey City or from the lower tip of Manhattan.

Here are just some of the notable people who entered the United States as immigrants on Ellis Island: Isaac Asimov, Charles Atlas, Irving Berlin, Frank Capra, Claudette Colbert, Xavier Cugat, Max Factor, Bela Lugosi, Knute Rockne, Rudolph Valentino, and Henny Youngman.

History: Ground Zero

We remember. We'll always remember. Uploaded by

We remember. We'll always remember. Uploaded by

The World Trade Center towers proved to be an irresistible target to Islamic terrorists. They attacked it first in 1993, hoping to topple the North Tower into the South Tower. Fortunately, “only” six people were killed. But we didn’t take them seriously. So on September 11, 2002, they finished the job they’d started, this time killing nearly 3,000.

It’s important not to forget the details of those traumatic and treacherous strikes, because those attacks were on us. Not on military professionals who accepted danger as part of their mission, but on civilians. They were our wives and husbands, our parents and children, our friends and co-workers. They were at work, providing for their families, building their futures. They held no particular animosity toward Islam, probably never gave world religions or their grievances a thought.

One rendering of what Ground Zero might become. Uploaded by

One rendering of what Ground Zero might become. Uploaded by

Also among the dead were brave New York firefighters and police officers, men and women who embodied the concepts of honor, duty, and valor. They knew their jobs and did them, without regard to their own personal safety. If you ever need an example of what a hero embodies, look no further than those who served so selflessly on September 11.

Ever since the country recovered from its initial shock, it was clear that Ground Zero is a living monument. Yet even now, eight years later, there’s not complete agreement on what should be built on the site. New York apparently sees the practical need to replace some of the office space that was eliminated. But the initial plan called for a number of towers to be built, and the current economic climate doesn’t support that much space. And as one person observed, would you place an office tower over the Arizona memorial in Pearl Harbor? Or allow an IHOP to be built at Auschwitz?

I think the site should be used solely as a monument to the people who lost their lives there on September 11. The rest should be a memorial park. Anything else risks turning an important part of American history into a commercial enterprise – and that could be an unforgivable desecration of hallowed ground.

History: Appomattox

Robert E. Lee surrenders the Army of Northern Virginia to Ulysses Grant. Uploaded by

Robert E. Lee surrenders the Army of Northern Virginia to Ulysses Grant. Uploaded by

I’m reminded of the Leonard Cohen lyrics: “Everybody knows the war is over, everybody knows the good guys lost.” Okay, the South wasn’t the “good guys”, except in the romantic fog of chauvinism. The War Between the States, the War for Southern Independence, the War of Northern Aggression, the War of the Rebellion, the Lost Cause. The Civil War. Whatever you call it, it came to an end in Appomattox.

It was a sleepy little Virginia town on April 9, 1865 when Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia to Ulysses Grant. It’s still a sleepy little town, with a McDonald’s and an indelible place in American history.

Lee had hoped to reach the railroad in Lynchburg and get supplies for his beleaguered troops, but Union troops pinned his army at Appomattox, leaving the general no alternative but to surrender. “There is nothing left for me to do but to go and see General Grant,” Lee said, “and I would rather die a thousand deaths.”

Appomattox Court House. Uploaded to Flickr by jimbowen0306.

Appomattox Court House. Uploaded to Flickr by jimbowen0306.

Of course, there were other Confederate armies still fighting, but when word reached them of Lee’s surrender, they realized the dream was over. The last sizable Southern force gave up the fight over two months after Appomattox.

Grant was magnanimous to the vanquished enemy, allowing them to keep their horses and mules along with their personal sidearms. Lee appreciated Grant’s spirit, and never allowed a bad word to be said about the Union general in his presence.

Thousands of Civil War buffs visit the Appomattox Court House National Historical Park each year, making a pilgrimage to the McLean House, where the surrender was signed.