American History

Long May It Wave

Ever since Betsy Ross stitched the first few threads of Old Glory, our flag has become a symbol of freedom, liberty and fair play throughout the world. 

I’ve always been intrigued by mankind’s use of flags throughout history. They’ve been used to symbolize a variety of things. Governments have used them to evoke pride and patriotism in their peoples. Military leaders have used them on the battlefield to rally their troops. Flags have been used throughout history to instill fear in one’s enemies. Pirates were infamous for this. The mere sight of the Jolly Roger turned many courageous men into quivering jelly.

The U. S. Coast Guard flies a flag at small boat stations to indicate weather conditions. A single triangular red flag indicates a small craft advisory.  Two piggy-backed ones warn boaters of gale conditions. A single, oblong red flag with a black box in its center indicates a storm warning. When these are piggy-backed, boaters better take notice. A hurricane is on its way. Ignore the flags, and sail at your own risk. I just wish the fools who ignore the flags didn’t expect the brave men and women of the Coast Guard to risk their lives to save them.

Signal flags, with each flag representing a letter of the alphabet, are used to indicate a wide variety of events or dangers a ship may be facing. The science of using them requires training and skill. For example, did you know the Juliet flag means “Steer clear. I’m carrying dangerous cargo and am on fire?”  The Whiskey flag means “I have a medical emergency aboard.”  And the Oscar flag means “Man overboard.”

In old times, when a captain died at sea, a blue flag was flown. As the ship arrived in port, anyone watching it dock immediately knew the crew was in mourning. Hence, the expression in our language “feeling blue.”

One of the most famous flags in the world is, of course, the American flag. The United States has set aside June 14 to honor it. It’s simply called Flag Day. A type of Flag Day was first observed one hot summer in Hartford, Connecticut in 1861, but by the late 1800’s Flag Day observances were being held all over the country as a way to incorporate foreign children into our society. If that were to happen today, I don’t think it would go over too well in some communities on the Texas border. There foreign children are more likely to be deported or their parents shot at.

Most folks don’t know that Pennsylvania is the only state where Flag Day is a legal holiday. The forward-thinking citizens there made it so in 1937. Other states across the nation observe it, but only Pennsylvania citizens deemed the flag sacred enough to merit a special holiday.

It’s a shame more people don’t fly the flag regularly. Most folks wouldn’t think of going a day without cable service, but not many seem too concerned about not seeing Old Glory on a regular basis.

Did you know that the American Flag is flown year-round by Presidential decree in five different places? For clarity sake, it wasn’t Donald Trump who first ordered it. You can probably guess a couple of places it’s never taken down. The White House, the Washington Monument, the USS Arizona in Hawaii, Fort McHenry in Baltimore, and the moon. I bet a lot of Raven and Oriole fans didn’t even know that.

It wasn’t until President Harry Truman signed a bill into law in 1949 that Flag Day was nationally observed. I wonder why it took such a long time for so sacred a symbol to achieve such a venerable status. Can’t bombastic, self-serving politicians ever get anything done without dragging it out for decades? I bet if they were told no cocktail hour till some work is done, Flag Day would have been a reality back in 1927 when President Coolidge championed the idea. .

Not everyone in the United States is a big fan of Old Glory. Many protesters believe it’s their God-given right to burn it in protest of their government’s policies. The Supreme Court has ruled they have the right to freedom of expression, but I can’t help but wonder if those brave enough to burn the flag in broad daylight would do so if they had faced down deadly enemy fire in the dead of night in some remote outpost in Afghanistan or a dark jungle teeming with Viet Cong. Those who want to burn the flag should talk to my wife’s cousin, Johnny Gilroy, one of this country’s true heroes. He can tell you about some of  those Vietnam jungles and the men who fought by his side for your freedom.

If you really want to protest our government’s policies, smash your X-Box, burn your paycheck, or lend your debit card to a homeless Vet. A thousand protesters doing that will really get our nation’s attention.

I’m proud to be an American and if you come visit me, you’ll find the American flag flying along with the Jolly Roger and the flag of the Conch Republic. That’s the flag of the Florida Keys, a country unto itself, but that’s a story for another time.

It’s not a perfect country that Old Glory flies over, and like Blackbeard’s crew, we certainly have our blemishes. Bigotry, prejudice, and racial hatred don’t even begin to scratch the surface.

But when just one American stands up for another whom he doesn’t even know or even care for, the invisible threads of our unity are knit tighter than the threads of our flag. Great divisiveness has strangled our nation in recent years, but if we remember that only by working together can we survive, then our future is bright. But if we let anger, fear, hatred, and greed divide us, then we are doomed and no amount of flag-waving is going to save us. The choice is ours. Flag Day is a good day to remember we need to focus on what makes us Americans and not Republicans or Democrats.

                             Bill Hegerich

                              The Uncommon Mariner

 

To leave a comment, please go to: https://billhegerichsr.wordpress.com/2018/06/15/long-may-it-wave/

Hawaii

There are four major Tiki gods: Kono, Kane, Kanaloa, and Ku plus numerous small ones. These two Tiki gods apparently are discussing who drank their rum. I hope they know it wasn’t me.

We recently celebrated the discovery of the Hawaiian Islands, January 18, 1778 by Captain James Cook. Surprisingly, there were no tiki bars when he landed, no grass skirts on the women, and no pineapples growing there.

And I’m pretty sure neither Cook nor his men got leied by the natives, though they were surprised to see the visitors appear on the horizon at the culmination of a sacred festival. The natives took their appearance as a sign that they were gods. I don’t think Cook and his men did much to discourage that idea.

Cook named his discovery the Sandwich Islands after John Montague, Earl of Sandwich, a generous benefactor who helped make Cook’s voyages possible. I don’t think I would have called it that especially in front of a crew of hungry sailors.

One of the best books ever written about the islands was penned by James Michener, who once served in the Navy there. He went to great extremes to research his topic so that he got it right. Of all things, he called his book Hawaii. Imagine that. What’s more, the book was translated into 32 languages. I’d be happy if my book was translated into one language.

Though it’s a fictionalized account of the islands, Hawaii is so true to its history that it could be a documentary. One of the things you might be surprised to learn about Hawaii is that among the first settlers were Polynesians from the Marquesas Islands and natives from Bora Bora in the South Pacific. I’m glad they didn’t name their new home Hawaii Hawaii.

Everyone has heard of Maui but not many are familiar with Molokai, Hawaii’s fifth largest island. Its dark secret may be the reason. Unimmune islanders contracted diseases from visiting sailors and foreigners seeking their fortune. A small section of the island was set aside as a leprosy colony in 1866 and operated for over a hundred years. People exiled here were declared legally dead. That’s sad.

I’ve never been to the islands, but my daughter and son-in-law honeymooned in Maui. I wasn’t invited. As you can guess, the islands are breathtaking and all have their own, unique microclimate, so much so that you can indulge in sandy beaches, towering mountains, tropical rain forests, or volcanoes that still grumble.

In case you haven’t heard, the Hawaiian Islands are 2,500 miles from the mainland of the United States. Natives there don’t really use the phrase “mainland of the United States.” They just call it the mainland, and because it is so far away, everything must be imported. Cars, toothbrushes, hamburgers, and Hawaiian shirts. That makes living there quite expensive. You probably know Hawaii was made the 50th state in 1959, but what you may not know is the average home is around $270,000 while the average home on the mainland is closer to $119,000.

Despite the inconvenience and expense of having everything imported, the United States government is not about to close any of its bases. Hawaii is the key to protecting the mainland as well as keeping an eye on things in that corner of the world.

Unless you spend your life in the fantasy world of Facebook, you no doubt have heard about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. On a quiet Sunday morning on Dec. 07, 1941, Japanese Kamikaze bombers came roaring out of the western Pacific and bombed the hell out of the American fleet and the Navy personnel there. Over 2,200 Americans died that day with another 1,200 wounded.  The surprise attack destroyed battleships, cruisers, destroyers, and over 188 planes. The only reason our three great aircraft carriers weren’t destroyed was because they weren’t in port that day. Talk about luck.

Franklin D. Roosevelt called it a, “Day which will live in infamy.” He was right. And it’s why we should always be extremely cagey when dealing with the bastard in North Korea, nuts enough to think he can get away with something similar. When unstable leaders like Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump play chicken with each other, the whole world better sit up and pay attention.

As beautiful and breathtaking as the images of Hawaii are, America’s early involvement in the islands have their root in a dark and checkered past. The United States helped overthrow the legitimate ruler, Queen Lili’uokalani in 1893 after years of wrangling and manipulation, and it wasn’t because the U.S. had a yearning for Hawaiian guitars, grass skirts, or luaus either. The culprits behind the overthrow of the queen were white businessmen headed by Sanford Dole, eager to expand their pineapple plantations at the islanders’ expense.

But non-Americans shouldn’t get too sanctimonious. The Spanish brutalized the natives of South America for gold and silver. European countries like England, France, Portugal, Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands all had a hand in carving up the Dark Continent and wreaking untold misery on its native cultures.

Mark Twain once said, “There isn’t a foot of land in the world that doesn’t represent the ousting and re-ousting of a long line of successful “owners” who each in turn… defended it against the next gang of robbers who came to steal it…”  I bet Queen Lili’uokalani would agree with Twain’s assessment.

I don’t know if it’s the seductive images of Hawaii or the last few songs from Jimmy Buffett Live in Hawaii, but I think I’m getting a little nostalgic for luaus, Hawaiian shirts, and wahines in grass skirts. If my wife walks through the door wearing one, I’m getting my scissors out and do a little trimming. No sense letting grass grow under my feet. Or anywhere else.

                         Bill Hegerich

                        The Uncommon Mariner

To leave a comment or pay homage to the Tiki gods, go to https://billhegerichsr.wordpress.com/2018/01/19/hawaii/

 

My Stamp of Approval

It’s amazing how many different kinds of postage stamps you can buy at the post office this time of year. There’s the Madonna and Child, Saint Nick, and a lamb proclaiming, “All is calm and bright.” Of course, there’s also one celebrating Hanukkah, another Kwanzaa, plus quite a few more. And that’s on top of some pretty amazing stamps commemorating people and events from America’s past.

One of my favorites is a black and white stamp of John Kennedy. It captures a very handsome man displaying an air of leadership and dignity, something lacking in the presidency these days. I remember when he first became president. I was only 14, but even a callow youth like me sensed the feeling of hope that pervaded the country. Anything seemed possible then, so much so that Kennedy promised the United States would put a man on the moon in a decade. He beat his own timeline.

Coming from any other politician, the prediction would have been preposterous dribble, like a slimy politician promising to build a wall to keep Mexicans out of the country. But when a man like John Kennedy shared the vision of a New Frontier, most Americans believed that it was not only possible but probable.

I don’t think we should put the picture of politicians on postage stamps today. It seems most are obnoxious and deceitful, many millionaires who buy their position with the family inheritance or with obscene amounts of money from lobbyists. And that’s a disgrace. Who wants to mail a letter with a politician’s picture on it who robs from the poor to give to the rich?

It’s not that people don’t expect you to bend the rules when you ’re president, but they do expect you to play fairly and not be mean-spirited or vengeful. Which brings me back to postage stamps and an interesting character from America’s past. Blackbeard.

It takes a real leader to handle a shipload of pirates. Imagine what Blackbeard could have accomplished as President

I can’t help but think he would have made a great president, looking great on a postage stamp. He was clever, manipulative, strong, focused, and a great motivator. If you served with him, you might not always agree with his methods or his goals, but life couldn’t have been fairer on his ship. He wouldn’t have had to tweet for you to know what he was thinking or to exert his authority.

As I mull over this whole postage stamp thing, I can’t help but think what one would look like with Blackbeard’s picture on it. He’s usually portrayed with a black, straggly beard and a full head of hair. His eyes didn’t twinkle like Santa Claus’. Rather they were dark and piercing, quick to root out malingerers.

I don’t know if Donald Trump’s likeness will ever appear on a postage stamp. One reason is just practicality. How can you get a picture of someone with all that hair into such a small space? The other reason is more ethical. Is it really a good idea to extol someone who thinks it okay to grab a woman by her genitals without even asking? I’d like to see Donald Trump do that around Blackbeard.

Another figure that deserves a place on a postage stamp is Captain William Kidd. Kidd’s gotten a pretty bad rap over the years, but many historians are revising their view of Kidd as a ruthless, blood-thirsty murderer. The fact is, when Kidd set sail from New York, he did so with the explicit approval of some very influential politicians. His fortunes turned bad when his crew grew mutinous after failing to capture any ships on a list pre-approved by the King and politicians.

Kidd struggled to control his crew, all the while attempting to satisfy the demands of his well-connected investors. If Kidd had a flaw, it was that he was naïve and trusting. After returning to the Caribbean, he discovered he was a wanted man, yet opted to willingly return to New York, certain he would find support from those who hired him.

Politicians, realizing they were about to be embarrassed, disassociated themselves from Kidd, and even went so far as to hide two tickets that would have exonerated him. Upon his arrival in New York, he was jailed and shipped to England to be tried for murder and piracy. Forbidden to present an adequate defense, he was found guilty and condemned to hang. Kidd’s picture on a postage stamp? He earned it after dealing with cutthroats at home and at sea.

And not to slight the ladies, I think Ann Bonny is another pirate who deserves to be on a postage stamp. At an age when women on ships were taboo, Ann broke the glass ceiling or at least the crow’s nest on the mainmast. It took a lot of courage for a woman to pass herself off as a man, rubbing elbows and God knows what else with a ship filled with lusty sailors. Just going to the bathroom took a lot finesse and cleverness so as not to expose her identity as well as other things.

Eventually, Bonny’s sex was discovered, but she earned the crew’s approval when she showed she could fight as well as any man. Surprisingly, Ann and her cohort Mary Read proved more valorous than the men who cowered below deck when the ship was under attack. When captured, she was tried and sentenced to death. The only reason the sentence wasn’t carried out was because she was pregnant.

Blackbeard’s flag depicts a heartless scoundrel, but he was fair to the little guy. He would disapprove of today’s politicians who steal from the poor guy to give to the wealthy.

I could suggest other pirates whose faces deserve to be on postage stamps, but I’d be happy with just these three. Like the typical politician today, they were resourceful, clever, and master manipulators. Unlike today’s politicians with their aristocratic attitudes, pirates had a strong sense of fair play and democracy. On a pirate ship, no one was privileged. Not the rich; not the well-connected; and certainly not the blood-sucking lobbyists.

The motto of pirates could be summed up in a familiar phrase: “All for one. One for all.” If Blackbeard and his ilk were alive today, they might even adopt the motto of the Carnival Cruise Line: “Fun for all, All for Fun.” Though they would probably insist on changing it to: “Rum for all. All for Rum.” Rather than argue with them, I figure why not join them.

It’s almost 4:30, and I have to close this piece. My wife needs a book of stamps at the post office. I don’t know what kind she wants, but if I had my way, I know which ones I’d buy.

                                            Bill Hegerich

                                            The Uncommon Mariner

 

To leave a comment, go to https://billhegerichsr.wordpress.com/2017/12/09/my-stamp-of-approval/

 

A Memorial Day Tribute

When the storm clouds form on the horizon of this country, you can always count on the strong and brave Armed Forces of the United States. Thanks to all our Veterans.

I think it’s quite appropriate this Memorial Day to recognize all the current members of our Armed Forces and those who served so generously in the past. That includes the United States Navy, Army, Air Force, as well as the United States Coast Guard and the Marine Corps. Though all branches merit attention, because this is a blog about pirates, mariners, and the sea, and because of space constraints, I’m limiting this piece to those military branches that served primarily on the sea.

The following is a little quiz to see how much you know about the Armed Forces that have protected your Homeland and your Freedom since its birth. And here’s a little challenge to go along with that. How about contributing a dollar for every incorrect answer to a worthy cause that serves our Veterans. They need no introduction from me.  Unsure if a charity really supports Vets? Check it out at www.charitynavigator.org/. You’ll find the answers to the quiz at the end of each section. Good luck. Hoorah!

                                    True or False

  1. The United States Coast Guard was born August 4, 1790 at Alexander Hamilton’s request.
  2. The Coast Guard was once called the US Revenue Cutter Service.
  3. There are approximately 25,000 members of the Coast Guard.
  4. The US Coast Guard operates 100 cutters, 100 aircraft, and 500 other boats.
  5. The Coast Guard has been transferred to the Department of Navy four times in its history.
  6. The US Coast Guard is the only military branch within the Homeland Security.
  7. Boot camp for the USCG is located at Parris Island, SC.
  8. On the average day, the USCG saves 10 lives and conducts almost 50 Search and Rescue missions.
Answers: 1.  True 2. True 3. False: members of the USCG exceed 50,000 4. False: There are 243 cutters, 201 aircraft, and over 1,600 other boats operated by the USCG. 5. False: The Coast Guard has been transferred to the Navy only twice; in WWI and WWII. 6. True. 7. False: Boot camp for the Coast Guard is located at Cape May, New Jersey. 8. True: Thank you Coast Guardians for saving our lives.
  1. The US Navy is actually older than the United States.
  2. Including reserves, over 400,000 personnel serve in the US Navy.
  3. A permanent Navy wasn’t established until 1794.
  4. Only China has a larger aircraft carrier fleet than the US Navy.
  5. Other than navy personnel assigned around the world, the largest concentration of the US Navy is at Hampton Rhodes, VA.
  6. The largest overseas naval base is located in the Philippines.
  7. The initials USS before a ship stands for United States Ship.
  8. About half the US aircraft carriers and submarines are nuclear-powered.
    Answers: 9. True: It was founded as the Continental Navy October 13, 1775. 10. True. 11: True. 12. False: The US Navy has 10 aircraft carriers in service, two in reserve, and three under construction. 13. True 14. False: The largest overseas naval base is at Yokosuka, Japan. 15. True 16. False: All active subs and carriers are powered by nuclear energy.
  9. The US Marines were first formed to fight the British in 1775.
  10. The Marine Corps once actively fought pirates in what became known as the Barbary Wars.
  11. The marines have close to 90,000 serving in the Corps.
  12. Devil Dogs is an affectionate name for the marines.
  13. A detachment of marines frequently served on board regular Navy vessels as security guards.
  14. Those who serve 20 years in the Marine Corps are known as Lifers.
  15. The mascot of the Marine Corps is the eagle.
  16. The motto of the USMC is “By Land or by Sea.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 Answers: 17: True: Two battalions were formed in Philadelphia Nov. 10, 1775. 18. True: The fighting took place in the Mediterranean Sea off Tripoli, and inspired the line from the Marines’ Hymn: “To the shores of Tripoli.” 19. False: The number of Marines in the Corps exceeds 182,000 with another 40,000 in reserve.   True. Leatherneck is also a nickname for a marine. 21. True. 22. True. 23. False: The Marines’ mascot is the English bulldog. 24. False: The motto of the USMC is: “Improvise, Adapt, Overcome.”

Many thanks to the countless men and women currently serving in the Armed Forces who are keeping America strong and free. And many thanks to veterans past who likewise sacrificed so much to make this land the Home of the Brave and the Land of the Free. May this country always stand by you as you have by it.

                                Bill Hegerich 

                                The Uncommon Mariner

 

To leave a comment click on https://billhegerichsr.wordpress.com/2017/05/27/a-memorial-day-tribute/