American History

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

 

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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

 

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