Saturday, October 4, 2014

10-4, good buddy -- it's National CB Day

Hula hoops were for kids.

Coonskin caps were for kids.

More recently, Cabbage Patch Kids were for kids. Tickle Me Elmo was for kids.

As a kid, I wanted all sorts of fleeting, ephemeral things, some of which my parents got for me and most of which I don't remember.

But it was my dad who wanted the CB radio.

He already had a police scanner. He listened to it at night... he slept with it on all night... the better to keep up with what me and my idiot friends were up to, he told me.

CB radios are the one fad I can think of from my childhood that was for the grown-ups, not the kids. My dad sent into the FCC for a license to use it. Later, no license was required. But, originally, there was a license issued, albeit without any particular exam or credential.

The CB craze swept the country in the mid to late 70s, spawning movies (Smokey and the Bandit, for example... Sally Field... sigh... oh, and Burt Reynolds and Jackie Gleason, too) and a top hit song ("Convoy" by C.W. McCall), and adding 10-codes into the popular vocabulary ("that's a big 10-4, there, good buddy"). It is that once-ubiquitous phrase, 10-4, that makes today, October 4, National CB Day.

I never saw my father actually use the CB radio; I suppose he must have. He wasn't the sort to buy something and not use it. He did have it on, sometimes, when I was in the car with him. A local intersection that was always under construction was, I learned in this way, called "The Barrels." It took me awhile to figure out why.

In the law, we call that an admission against interest.

I have no idea if he had a "handle" when he was driving on his own. I can't imagine what it would have been.

Friday, June 6, 2014

June 6: D-Day + 70 years: Success was no sure thing

The success of the Allied invasion of Normandy was not guaranteed.

Every effort had been made to keep the actual landing sites secret and, you may remember, to fool the Germans into believing the attack would come at Calais.

Enormous stockpiles of men, machines, and materiel had been assembled for the invasion effort. But the ability to get everything into France depended on whether the Mulberry harbors -- artificial harbors specially designed for the landings -- would work. No one knew. No one could know.

What the Germans knew was that an invasion was coming. And tidal cycles greatly narrowed the possibilities for possible invasion dates. Rommel was dispatched to build the Atlantic Wall to keep the Allies from securing beachheads. The Germans, by this time already under extreme pressure on the Eastern Front from the Soviets, had already been forced to divert increasingly scarce resources into Italy to slow the Allied advance after the Italians deserted the Axis and surrendered. The German military hierarchy, if not the the increasingly-delusional Hitler himself, understood that, if the Allies made it ashore safely in France, their so-called Thousand Year Reich's days were numbered. So the Germans were desperate, too.

There were so many ways for the invasion to fail. The landings might be rebuffed at the shore, with no beachheads established. If the artificial harbors didn't work, the Allies might not be able to muster enough force to breakout of those beachheads.

The weather cooperated. The Germans knew that June 5-6, 1944 were possible invasion dates, but the weather had been so terrible that the Germans concluded no crossing would be attempted. Rommel even went home for the weekend. Eisenhower did postpone the invasion for 24 hours and almost postponed it again because of the weather, but the weather cleared, just enough and just in time, for the great crusade to be launched.

"Crusade" was not a dirty word in 1944. Crusade in Europe was the title of Eisenhower's 1948 memoir. And, in his message to the invasion forces, Eisenhower wrote, in part,
You are about to embark upon a great crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty loving people everywhere march with you. In company with our brave Allies and brothers in arms on other fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world.
Images in this post from
the National Archives
But no one knew better than Eisenhower that the invaders might be repulsed. He scratched out a note on the evening of June 5 (it is dated July 5, but we can forgive the man under the stress of the moment), just in case. The note read,
Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based upon the best information available. The troops, the air and the Navy did all that Bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone.
Today, 70 years later, it is easy to conclude that the D-Day landings were destined to be successful. Hindsight is always 20/20. The men who launched the invasion could not be sure. But we can be so grateful that they overcame their doubts and reservations and went ahead despite them.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Feburary 3: The Day the Music Died

Anybody who was old enough to listen to the radio in the early 1970s probably still knows all the words to Don McLean's "American Pie." It was played to death on the radio. Deejays would host 'specials' to analyze the lyrics, trying to parse out all the references to performers or events in McLean's words. (You can still find some of these analyses on line, such as this one, posted on Yahoo! Music in July 2012.)

While some interpretations conflicted, all agreed on this point: "The Day the Music Died" was a reference to the airplane crash on February 3, 1959, outside Clear Lake, Iowa, which killed Buddy Holly and the Big Bopper. A young and not-yet-famous Waylon Jennings was part of Holly's backup band on that tour, and he was supposed to be on that plane, but he gave up his seat at the request of J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson, who'd been recovering from the flu and wanted to avoid the bus trip to the tour's next stop in Minnesota.

Just about all the Usual Suspects set aside February 3, therefore, to commemorate The Day the Music Died.

The Iowa crash site was documented in a number of photos by investigators; these are collected at a site called The Day the Music Died: Crash Site Photo Archive. Here's one:

The crash victims had not been removed when these photos were taken.

Today, February 3, is also Four Chaplains Day, remembering the heroic sacrifice of four U.S. Army chaplains, the "Immortal Chaplains," who gave up their life belts and their places in the rescue boats because there weren't enough to go around. The four clergymen were on the USAT Dorchester on February 3, 1943, when the ship was torpedoed by a German U-boat. They were Methodist minister the Reverend George L. Fox, Rabbi Alexander D. Goode, Roman Catholic priest the Reverend John P. Washington, and Reformed Church in America minister the Reverend Clark V. Poling. As the linked Wikipedia article relates, "The chaplains joined arms, said prayers, and sang hymns as they went down with the ship."