Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Freedom of Religion or Freedom from Religion?

Every year at this time I do a blog about the meaning of Christmas.  For the last several years I have been alarmed by the slow removal of our rights to celebrate Christmas as we have done for generations. For that reason, I feel the need to address this subject rather than my annual Christmas Blog. 

While tackling  this subject it occurred to me I would never be able to address it  as elegantly as Richard Wells, National Write Your Congressman's Western Division Manager.  Richard writes the "Patriots Perspective" for NWYC.  He generously agreed to be my first guest blogger.  Thank you Richard.  

These are his words...

Freedom of Religion or Freedom from Religion?

With the Winter Solstice upon us and snow beginning to fall, Christmas spirit begins to rise for much of the nation.  It’s a season of giving, caroling, Santa Claus, Nativity scenes and for decades now a new tradition--the tradition of lawsuits over religious expression.  This month in the news for instance, a West Point Cadet quit the academy because of religious activity and its encouragement by several officers, claiming that they were violating their oath to defend the Constitution.  Contrast that to an old tradition set by the first commander of the US military, General Washington, where he closes his final orders to the army at the end of the Revolutionary War with a prayer.  Later as President of the US and Commander and Chief of the military, he often publicly called upon God to support the nation.          
But this shouldn’t just be about tradition, so perhaps a few more examples can add clarity to this whole religious freedom thing.  In September of this year, the Connellsville Area School District of PA was sued in an attempt to have the 10 Commandments monument removed from the lawn of one of its schools, yet in 1935, the Supreme Court Building for the United States of America was constructed with religious references and an engraving of the Ten Commandments—law makers approved the plans.  Then in December last year the mayor of Warren, Michigan was sued for allowing a Christmas Nativity Scene in the City Hall Atrium. However, Thomas Jefferson recorded his approval that the Charlottesville Courthouse near his home in Virginia was used by the four denominations in the area for religious services.  His only concern was equal access and so the four alternated preaching every fourth Sunday and congregants from each sect attended.  In light of these diametrically opposed views on religion in the public square, which interpretation of the first amendment which guarantees religious freedom should be adopted? After all isn’t there supposed to be a wall separating church and state? 
Actually, the phrase separation of church and state does not appear in any of our National Documents, but comes from a letter Thomas Jefferson wrote nearly fifteen years after the Constitution was signed.  The letter was not a directive to government but was sent to a religious group.  The Constitution actually reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”  It was intended to ensure that the Federal Government (the constitution grants power to The States in this area), not designate any religion as supreme over another nor to act in anyway which prohibits the free exercise of religion.  It appears then by their actions that they didn’t want God removed from public discussion, but rather they wanted government removed from dictating the nature of that discussion.  After all, they understood their history.  They knew that valiant men like Hus, Tyndale and Rogers were all executed for translating and distributing copies of the Bible in opposition to the religious and political authorities of the day who forbade such activity.  They saw how their work and the work of many others allowed for self-study, the codification of language and a burning desire for wider religious and political freedom.  This desire was so deep that many more would risk everything to establish self-governing political and religious bodies in America.  Ironically, many of these groups disallowed religious freedoms to others outside their sect.  And so it was from this perspective that the founders set up a restriction for the government, not a censorship imposed upon the people. 
For more than 150 years this was the standard in the United States, until the Supreme Court ruled in the 1947 case of Everson v. Board of Education and built a “high and impregnable” wall separating church and state.  This opinion has been used to silence prayer in schools, remove religious symbols from public places and much, much more.  Regardless of your religious or non-religious belief system the question must be asked, is it right that an atheist or agnostic body of people should have preferential treatment in seeking to silence religious sentiment in the public square?  Even the US Supreme Court doesn’t think so as evidenced by a subsequent opinion in their 1952 case Zorach v. Clauson:  

“The First Amendment… does not say that in every respect there shall be a separation of Church and State. Rather…there shall be no concert or union or dependency one on the other. That is the common sense of the matter. Otherwise the state and religion would be aliens to each other…
            Municipalities would not be permitted to render police or fire protection to religious groups… Prayers in our legislative halls; the appeals to the Almighty in the messages of the Chief Executive; the proclamation making Thanksgiving Day a holiday; “so help me God” in our Courtroom oaths—these and all other references to the Almighty that run through our laws, our public rituals, our ceremonies, would be flouting the First Amendment…
            When the state…cooperates with religious authorities by adjusting the schedule of public events…it follows the best of our traditions. For it then respects the religious nature of our people and accommodates the public service to their spiritual needs. To hold that it may not, would be to find in the Constitution a requirement that the government show a callous indifference to religious groups. That would be preferring those who believe in no religion over those who do believe…We cannot read into the Bill of Rights such a philosophy of hostility to religion.

America has a great tradition founded in religious principles.  It certainly has violated the rights of minority religions and the irreligious alike and in such cases the Constitution should be called upon to protect those rights.  However, over-zealous efforts often by well intentioned people must not allow the demon of persecution to enter our society nor suppress the ideas of open inquiry, discussion and debate.  Excluding ideas, whether religious or not suppress such honest inquiry and threatens to put our society back in the dark ages.  Remember, Madison carefully worded that first amendment as freedom of Religion, not freedom from it… Now I ask you the reader to decide carefully which interpretation best honors America’s tradition of freedom?  


Friday, November 9, 2012

Veterans Day

World War I, known at the time as The Great War, officially ended when the Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919, in the Palace of Versailles outside the town of Versailles, France. Amazingly, fighting ceased seven months earlier when an armistice, or temporary cessation of hostilities, between the Allied nations and Germany went into effect on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. For that reason, November 11, 1918, was regarded as the end of “the war to end all wars.”

In November 1919, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed November 11 as the first commemoration of Armistice Day with the following words, "To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations…"

The original concept for the celebration was for a day observed with parades and public meetings and a brief suspension of business beginning at 11:00 a.m.
The United States Congress officially recognized the end of World War I when it passed a concurrent resolution on June 4, 1926, with these words:

Whereas the 11th of November 1918, marked the cessation of the most destructive, sanguinary, and far reaching war in human annals and the resumption by the people of the United States of peaceful relations with other nations, which we hope may never again be severed, and

Whereas it is fitting that the recurring anniversary of this date should be commemorated with thanksgiving and prayer and exercises designed to perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding between nations; and

Whereas the legislatures of twenty-seven of our States have already declared November 11 to be a legal holiday: Therefore be it Resolved by the Senate (the House of Representatives concurring), that the President of the United States is requested to issue a proclamation calling upon the officials to display the flag of the United States on all Government buildings on November 11 and inviting the people of the United States to observe the day in schools and churches, or other suitable places, with appropriate ceremonies of friendly relations with all other peoples.

On May 13, 1938, Congress passed an Act making the 11th of November of each year a legal holiday.  It was a day to be dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be thereafter celebrated and known as "Armistice Day." Armistice Day was primarily a day set aside to honor veterans of World War I, but in 1954, after World War II had required the greatest mobilization of soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen in the Nation’s history; after American forces had fought aggression in Korea, the 83rd Congress, at the urging of the veterans service organizations, amended the Act of 1938 by striking out the word "Armistice" and inserting in its place the word "Veterans."  

National Write Your Congressman would like to sincerely thank all Veterans for their loyalty and sacrifice to our country, and to the freedoms of generations to come.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Popular Vote + Electoral College

When we vote, is the President elected by our individual vote or by the Electoral College?

All votes count!  However, the final outcome of the election is determined by the Electoral College.  When you vote for a presidential candidate you are really voting to instruct the electors from your state to cast their votes for the same candidate that took the majority vote in your state.  This system was established in Article II of the Constitution and amended by the 12th Amendment in 1804.

Four times in history a candidate lost the popular vote but won the election by way of the electoral count. They were John Quincy Adams, Rutherford B. Hayes, Benjamin Harrison, and George W. Bush.

Each state gets electors equal to the number of U.S. House of Representatives plus one for each of its two U.S. Senators.  The District of Columbia gets three electors.  While state laws determine how electors are chosen, they are generally selected by the political party committees within the states.

Each elector gets one vote.  If a state has eight electors then eight votes would be cast.  There are currently 538 electors and the votes of a majority of them, 270 votes, are required to elect the president.  The map below shows how many electors each state has.

If no candidate wins 270 electoral votes, the 12th Amendment kicks in, and the election is decided by the House of Representatives.  The combined representatives of each state get one vote and a simple majority of states is required to win.  This has only happened twice.  Presidents Thomas Jefferson in 1801 and John Quincy Adams in 1825.

The night of the election a winner will be declared by all the news outlets.  One candidate will claim victory and one will normally concede defeat.  It will not become "official" and a new president and vice president named "elect" until the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December, when the electors of the Electoral College meet in their state capitals and cast their votes according to which candidate won the majority of their states popular vote.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Early Voting

Even though Election Day is still several weeks away, many Americans are already casting their votes.  The number of people choosing to vote before Election Day has dramatically increased over the last 32 years.  Today, Election Day is merely the last day a voter can cast a ballot.

Early voting in recent American elections has skyrocketed, reaching a record thirty percent of all votes cast in the 2008 presidential election, much higher than the twenty percent cast in 2004.  It appears that these records will be shattered again in 2012, with somewhere around thirty-five percent of all votes being cast prior to Election Day.

States vary their early voting options.  Some states like Indiana and Texas allow persons to vote early at  special polling locations.  Some like Oregon and Washington, and some local jurisdictions, run all-mail ballot elections.  Some like California and Colorado allow persons to request that they vote by mail in all future elections.  Some like Ohio allow persons to request a mail ballot for any reason.  Then there are a handful of holdouts like Pennsylvania and Virginia that have traditional absentee balloting laws that extend early voting only to those who provide a valid excuses.  Complicating definitions is that some states like Florida and North Carolina allow both early voting at special polling locations and no-fault absentee balloting.  And where mail balloting is the primary method of early voting, voters can vote in person at an election administration office.

All states used to have what might be considered traditional absentee voting laws.  The laws have evolved since.  California was the first to adopt no-fault absentee balloting in 1980.  Florida, Tennessee and Texas first opened special early-voting locations in 1996.  Oregon adopted all-mail elections by a 1998 voter initiative.  When early voting is tabulated by states, the national upward trend in early voting is located clearly among early voting states, although there has been a slight rise in early voting in states with traditional absentee balloting.  The upward national trajectory is a combination of more states adopting early voting alternatives and increasing use among voters.  Washington best exemplifies the love voters have for early voting.  So many people signed up to permanently receive ballots that election administrators decided to dispense with opening Election Day polling places that were costly to run and empty.  Colorado is nearing a similar tipping point.

Campaigns have adjusted their strategies to the way people vote.  Election administrators track the status of every registered voter, whether they voted in person early, and if they have a mail ballot in hand or if it has been returned.  They then scratch these voters off their target lists and refocus their efforts to those who have yet to vote.  Once the election rolls around and you want the campaigns to stop contacting early!

Monday, October 1, 2012

The Debates

With the candidates for President of the United States running neck and neck, this Wednesday's debate is of particular importance.  It is going to give Americans their first side by side look at President Obama and Governor Mitt Romney, and see what each of their thoughts are to the same questions.  These will be answers from their own mouths and not expressed from the press's view.

Fifty-Two years ago Americans were able to see their candidates side by side for the first time ever on National TV.  September 26, 1960, with 70 million viewers glued to their TV sets, Vice President Richard M. Nixon and Senator John F. Kennedy met for their first of three debates.

Many contend that this first debate changed the dynamics of the race completely.  Nixon insisted on campaigning until just a few hours before the first debate started.  He was still recovering from a knee injury and hospital stay thus looking pale, sickly, underweight, and tired.  He also refused makeup for the first debate, and as a result his beard stubble showed prominently on the black and white TV screens.  Kennedy, by contrast, rested and prepared extensively before hand in California.  He appeared tanned, confident, and relaxed during the debate.

Those who heard the first debate on the radio pronounced Nixon the winner.  The 70 million who watched television saw a candidate still sickly and obviously discomforted by Kennedy's smooth delivery and charisma.  Those television viewers focused on what they saw, not what they heard.   Studies of the audience indicated that, among television viewers, Kennedy was perceived the winner of the first debate by a very large margin.  Unfortunately for Nixon, the second and third debates were watched by 20 million fewer viewers than the first.

More than half of all voters reported that the "Great Debates" had influenced their opinion.  6% reported that their vote was the result of the debates alone.  Regardless of whether the debates changed the election result, voters pointed to the debates as a significant reason for electing Kennedy.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Sept. 11, 2001 - Attack on America

I cannot do a better job on this story than has covering one of our darkest days in history, Sept. 1, 2001.  These are their words...

At 8:45 a.m. on a clear Tuesday morning, an American Airlines Boeing 767 loaded with 20,000 gallons of jet fuel crashes into the north tower of the World Trade Center in New York City. The impact left a gaping, burning hole near the 80th floor of the 110-story skyscraper, instantly killing hundreds of people and trapping hundreds more in higher floors. As the evacuation of the tower and its twin got underway, television cameras broadcasted live images of what initially appeared to be a freak accident. Then, 18 minutes after the first plane hit, a second Boeing 767--United Airlines Flight 175--appeared out of the sky, turned sharply toward the World Trade Center, and sliced into the south tower at about the 60th floor. The collision caused a massive explosion that showered burning debris over surrounding buildings and the streets below. America was under attack.

The attackers were Islamic terrorists from Saudi Arabia and several other Arab nations. Reportedly financed by Saudi fugitive Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda terrorist organization, they were allegedly acting in retaliation for America's support of Israel, its involvement in the Persian Gulf War, and its continued military presence in the Middle East. Some of the terrorists had lived in the United States for more than a year and had taken flying lessons at American commercial flight schools. Others had slipped into the U.S. in the months before September 11 and acted as the "muscle" in the operation. The 19 terrorists easily smuggled box-cutters and knives through security at three East Coast airports and boarded four flights bound for California, chosen because the planes were loaded with fuel for the long transcontinental journey. Soon after takeoff, the terrorists commandeered the four planes and took the controls, transforming the ordinary commuter jets into guided missiles.

As millions watched in horror the events unfolding in New York, American Airlines Flight 77 circled over downtown Washington and slammed into the west side of the Pentagon military headquarters at 9:45 a.m. Jet fuel from the Boeing 757 caused a devastating inferno that led to a structural collapse of a portion of the giant concrete building. All told, 125 military personnel and civilians were killed in the Pentagon along with all 64 people aboard the airliner.

Less than 15 minutes after the terrorists struck the nerve center of the U.S. military, the horror in New York took a catastrophic turn for the worse when the south tower of the World Trade Center collapsed in a massive cloud of dust and smoke. The structural steel of the skyscraper, built to withstand winds in excess of 200 mph and a large conventional fire, could not withstand the tremendous heat generated by the burning jet fuel. At 10:30 a.m., the other Trade Center tower collapsed. Close to 3,000 people died in the World Trade Center and its vicinity, including a staggering 343 firefighters and paramedics, 23 New York City police officers, and 37 Port Authority police officers who were struggling to complete an evacuation of the buildings and save the office workers trapped on higher floors. Only six people in the World Trade Center towers at the time of their collapse survived. Almost 10,000 other people were treated for injuries, many severe.

Meanwhile, a fourth California-bound plane--United Flight 93--was hijacked about 40 minutes after leaving Newark International Airport in New Jersey. Because the plane had been delayed in taking off, passengers on board learned of events in New York and Washington via cell phone and Airfone calls to the ground. Knowing that the aircraft was not returning to an airport as the hijackers claimed, a group of passengers and flight attendants planned an insurrection. One of the passengers, Thomas Burnett, Jr., told his wife over the phone that "I know we're all going to die. There's three of us who are going to do something about it. I love you, honey." Another passenger--Todd Beamer--was heard saying "Are you guys ready? Let's roll" over an open line. Sandy Bradshaw, a flight attendant, called her husband and explained that she had slipped into a galley and was filling pitchers with boiling water. Her last words to him were "Everyone's running to first class. I've got to go. Bye."

The passengers fought the four hijackers and are suspected to have attacked the cockpit with a fire extinguisher. The plane then flipped over and sped toward the ground at upwards of 500 miles per hour, crashing in a rural field in western Pennsylvania at 10:10 a.m. All 45 people aboard were killed. Its intended target is not known, but theories include the White House, the U.S. Capitol, the Camp David presidential retreat in Maryland, or one of several nuclear power plants along the eastern seaboard.

At 7 p.m., President George W. Bush, who had spent the day being shuttled around the country because of security concerns, returned to the White House. At 9 p.m., he delivered a televised address from the Oval Office, declaring "Terrorist attacks can shake the foundations of our biggest buildings, but they cannot touch the foundation of America. These acts shatter steel, but they cannot dent the steel of American resolve." In a reference to the eventual U.S. military response he declared: "We will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them."

Operation Enduring Freedom, the U.S.-led international effort to oust the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and destroy Osama bin Laden's terrorist network based there, began on October 7, 2001. Bin Laden was killed during a raid of his compound in Pakistan by U.S. forces on May 2, 2011.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Remembering Neil Armstrong

Who, that was old enough to understand, does not remember exactly where they were the evening of July 20, 1969 when the first man set foot on the moon?  I was 19 years old and flying down I45 headed to Galveston Island.  My friend and I were listening to the radio waiting for the notice that it would be happening soon.  We pulled into a Holiday Inn and ran to the area where they had it on TV for everyone to see.  I still get thrilled remembering that grainy black and white picture on the television.

Neil Armstrong was a one of a kind.  His love for flight began when he was 6 years old and went on his first plane ride.  By the time he was 15 he had saved enough money working at a drug store to begin taking flying lessons.  His first lesson was in a small two-seater Aeronaco Champ.  At 16 he was already starting to be a test pilot, of sorts, earning flight hours by testing airplanes at the airport after the engines had been overhauled by the local mechanic.

Mr. Armstrong graduated from Purdue University and completed his graduate studies at the University of Southern California.  He joined the Navy as an officer and served in the Korean War.  Afterward he served as a test pilot at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics High-Speed Flight Station.

In 1962 he became a participant in the U.S. Air Force's Man In Space Soonest and X-20 Dyna-Soar human spaceflight program.  Later that year he joined the NASA Astronaut Corps, and his first flight was the Gemini 8 mission in 1966.  On this mission he performed the first manned docking of two spacecraft with pilot David Scott.

On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong's second flight was the mission of the Apollo 11 moon landing.  He and Buzz Aldrin descended to the lunar surface and spent 2 1/2 hours exploring, while Michael Collins remained in orbit in the Command Module.  It was on this mission that his famous words were spoken, "That's one small step for man; one giant leap for mankind."  Armstrong had been instructed by NASA to say, "That's one small step for "a" man; one giant leap for mankind," but to this day the debate continues over if he said the word "a" or not.

Neil Armstrong, along with his crew mates Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin, received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Congressional Space Medal of Honor, and the Congressional Gold Medal.

Mr. Armstrong passed away on August 25, 2012 at the age of 82 and remains a bigger than life icon of the era being remembered for his courage and never-say-die attitude as a pilot and astronaut.

Thursday, August 23, 2012


Destiny...Preordained...Fate...Timing...Luck...Irony...All these words came to mind as I was recalling the differences in the lives of  General Jonathan Wainwright and General Douglas MacArthur.

During World War II President Roosevelt made the decision to promote General Wainwright to Commander of All Allied Forces in the Philippines and transfer General MacArthur from his command in the Philippines to Australia.  Up until this point Wainwright had been a lieutenant general under MacArthur's command.

In 1942, General Wainwright's first strategic decision was to move his troops to a fortified garrison in Corregidor.  War was raging in Battan and was taken by the Japanese with their Bataan "Death March" of capturing all Allies.  Corredigor became the next battle ground.  General Wainwright and his 13,000 troops held out for a month despite all the heavy artillery fire.  Finally he and his troops surrendered.  He was captured and became a POW until the end of the war in 1945.

General Wainwright spent three and a half years as a POW in Luzon, Philippines, Formosa (now Taiwan), and Manchuria, China.  He was finally freed when Russian forces liberated the POW camp.  The General was emaciated, his hair had turned white, and his skin was cracked and fragile.  After his return to the United States he was awarded the Medal of Honor.

General MacArthur transferred to Australia where he became Supreme Commander of the Southwest Pacific Area.  For his defense of the Philippines, MacArthur was awarded the Medal of Honor. After more than two years of fighting in the Pacific, he fulfilled a promise to return to the Philippines. He officially accepted Japan's surrender on September 2, 1945, and oversaw the occupation of Japan from 1945 to 1951. As the effective ruler of Japan, he oversaw sweeping economic, political and social changes. He led the United Nations Command in the Korean War until he was removed from his duty by President Truman on April 11, 1951.

Was General Wainwright just unlucky in the timing of his promotion?  Was General MacArthur lucky in the timing of his promotion?  Destiny...Preordained...Fate...Timing...Luck...Irony...

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Syria: Is History Repeating Itself?

Watching the news on the Syrian Civil War, or Syrian Uprising as they prefer to refer to it, makes me think back to news of World War II and what Hitler did to the Jews and any other class of people he felt were inferior.  All world leaders, religions, and the everyday people on the streets said never would such heinous acts be allowed to be perpetrated on man again.  Then I look at the news and what do I see?  A government slaughtering its own people, men women and children, to the tune of over 10,000 killed, 1.5 million displaced internally, and with several thousand fleeing into neighboring countries.

I would like to pay homage by putting a brief story about Anne Frank on our blog.  We do not have the stories of the innocents being murdered in Syria yet, but one day those stories will come out.   Will we help or once again look back and say, never again?  Is history just going to repeat itself?

-Acting on a tip from a Dutch informer, the Nazi Gestapo captured 15-year-old Jewish diarist Anne Frank and her family in a sealed-off area of an Amsterdam warehouse. The Franks had taken shelter there in 1942 out of fear of deportation to a Nazi concentration camp. They occupied the small space with another Jewish family and a single Jewish man, and were aided by Christian friends, who brought them food and supplies. Anne spent much of her time in the "secret annex" working on her diary. The diary survived the war, overlooked by the Gestapo that discovered the hiding place, but Anne and nearly all of the others perished in the Nazi death camps.

Annelies Marie Frank was born in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, on June 12, 1929. She was the second daughter of Otto Frank and Edith Frank-Hollander, both of Jewish families that had lived in Germany for centuries. With the rise of Nazi leader Adolf Hitler in 1933, Otto moved his family to Amsterdam to escape the escalating Nazi persecution of Jews. In Holland, he ran a successful spice and jam business. Anne attended a Montessori school with other middle-class Dutch children, but with the German invasion of the Netherlands in 1940 she was forced to transfer to a Jewish school. In 1942, Otto began arranging a hiding place in an annex of his warehouse on the Prinsengracht Canal in Amsterdam.

On her 13th birthday in 1942, Anne began a diary relating her everyday experiences, her relationship with her family and friends, and observations about the increasingly dangerous world around her. Less than a month later, Anne's older sister, Margot, received a call-up notice to report to a Nazi "work camp." Fearing deportation to a Nazi concentration camp, the Frank family took shelter in the secret annex the next day. One week later, they were joined by Otto Frank's business partner and his family. In November, a Jewish dentist, the eighth occupant of the hiding place, joined the group.

For two years, Anne kept a diary about her life in hiding that is marked with poignancy, humor, and insight. The entrance to the secret annex was hidden by a hinged bookcase, and former employees of Otto and other Dutch friends delivered them food and supplies procured at high risk. Anne and the others lived in rooms with blacked-out windows, and never flushed the toilet during the day out of fear that their presence would be detected. In June 1944, Anne's spirits were raised by the Allied landing at Normandy, and she was hopeful that the long-awaited liberation of Holland would soon begin.

On August 1, 1944, Anne made her last entry in her diary. Three days later, 25 months of seclusion ended with the arrival of the Nazi Gestapo. Anne and the others had been given away by an unknown informer, and they were arrested along with two of the Christians who had helped shelter them. They were sent to a concentration camp in Holland, and in September Anne and most of the others were shipped to the Auschwitz death camp in Poland. In the fall of 1944, with the Soviet liberation of Poland underway, Anne was moved with her sister Margot to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany. Suffering under the deplorable conditions of the camp, the two sisters caught typhus and died in early March 1945. The camp was liberated by the British less than two months later.

Otto Frank was the only one of the 10 to survive the Nazi death camps. After the war, he returned to Amsterdam via Russia, and was reunited with Miep Gies, one of his former employees who had helped shelter him. She handed him Anne's diary, which she had found undisturbed after the Nazi raid. In 1947, Anne's diary was published by Otto in its original Dutch as Diary of a Young Girl. An instant best-seller and eventually translated into more than 50 languages, The Diary of Anne Frank has served as a literary testament to the nearly six million Jews, including Anne herself, who were silenced in the Holocaust.

Friday, July 27, 2012

The Olympics

In honor of the Olympics beginning tonight I thought I would list a few nuggets of Olympic history.

The original Olympic Games were held in Olympia, Greece from the 8th century BC to the 4th century AD.  Baron Pierre de Coubertin founded the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in 1894.  In 1912 The Baron designed the Olympic Flag with the rings in the colors of blue for Europe, black for Africa, red for America, yellow for Asia, and green for Oceania.

The Olympic motto is "Citius, Altius, Fortius," which is Latin for "Faster, Higher, Stronger."  The more informal motto is, "The most important thing is not to win but to take part!"

There are many well known American Olympians.  This is a short list of the American Olympians with the most medals.

Babe Didrickson - Track and Field - 1932,  2 Gold 1 Silver
Jesse Owens - Track and Field - 1936,  4 Gold 
Wilma Rudolph - Track and Field - 1956, '60  3 Gold 1 Bronze
Al Oerter - Track and Field - 1956, '60, '64, '68  4 Gold (discus throw)
Mark Spitz - Swimming - 1968, '72 - 8 Gold  1 Silver  1 Bronze
Jackie Joyner-Karsee - Track and Field - 1984, '88, '92 - 3 Gold  1 Silver  2 Bronze
Carl Lewis - Track and Field - 1984, '88, '92, '96 - 9 Gold  1 Silver 
Michael Johnson - Track and Field - 1992, '96, 2000 - 4 Gold
Michael Phelps - Swimming - 2004, 2008 - 14 Gold  2 Bronze 

Good luck to all the 2012 American Olympians from National Write Your Congressman.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Abraham Lincoln - A Little History

In a past post I reviewed George Santayana's theory of the importance of knowing history.  On that subject, what could be better than studying Abraham Lincoln?  I think the first thing people either do not remember or never knew is that he was a Republican.  He stood for human rights and the Constitution.  He believed in States rights with the country being ruled of the people, by the people, and for the people.

A little history...

Lincoln warned the South in his Inaugural Address, "In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war. The government will not assail you.... You have no oath registered in Heaven to destroy the government, while I shall have the most solemn one to preserve, protect and defend it."

Lincoln thought secession illegal, and was willing to use force to defend Federal law and the Union. When Confederate batteries fired on Fort Sumter and forced its surrender, he called on the states for 75,000 volunteers. Four more slave states joined the Confederacy but four remained within the Union. The Civil War had begun.

The son of a Kentucky frontiersman, Lincoln had to struggle for a living and for learning. Five months before receiving his party's nomination for President, he sketched his life.  "I was born Feb. 12, 1809, in Hardin County, Kentucky. My parents were both born in Virginia, of undistinguished families--second families, perhaps I should say. My mother, who died in my tenth year, was of a family of the name of Hanks.... My father ... removed from Kentucky to ... Indiana, in my eighth year.... It was a wild region, with many bears and other wild animals still in the woods. There I grew up.... Of course when I came of age I did not know much. Still somehow, I could read, write, and cipher ... but that was all."

Lincoln made extraordinary efforts to attain knowledge while working on a farm, splitting rails for fences, and keeping store at New Salem, Illinois. He was a captain in the Black Hawk War, spent eight years in the Illinois legislature, and rode the circuit of courts. His law partner said of him, "His ambition was a little engine that knew no rest."

He married Mary Todd, and they had four boys, only one of whom lived to maturity. In 1858 Lincoln ran against Stephen A. Douglas for Senator. He lost the election, but in debating with Douglas he gained a national reputation that won him the Republican nomination for President in 1860.

As President, he built the Republican Party into a strong national organization. He rallied most of the northern Democrats to the Union cause. On January 1, 1863, he issued the Emancipation Proclamation that declared forever free those slaves within the Confederacy.

Lincoln never let the world forget that the Civil War involved an even larger issue. This he stated most movingly in dedicating the military cemetery at Gettysburg,  "that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain--that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom--and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

President Lincoln won re-election in 1864, as Union military triumphs heralded an end to the war. In his planning for peace, the President was flexible and generous, encouraging Southerners to lay down their arms and join speedily in reunion.

The spirit that guided him was clearly that of his Second Inaugural Address, now inscribed on one wall of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D. C., "With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds.... "

On Good Friday, April 14, 1865, Lincoln was assassinated at Ford's Theater by John Wilkes Booth who somehow thought he was helping the South. The opposite was the result, for with Lincoln's death, the possibility of peace with magnanimity died.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

4th Of July - Independence Day

On July 4, 1776 the Declaration of Independence at once became the nation's most cherished symbol of liberty and Thomas Jefferson's most enduring monument.  Here, in exalted and unforgettable phrases, Jefferson expressed the convictions in the minds and hearts of the American people.  The political philosophy of the Declaration was not new; its ideals of individual liberty had already been expressed by John Locke and the Continental philosophers.  What Jefferson did was to summarize this philosophy in "self-evident truths" and set forth a list of grievances against the King in order to justify before the world the breaking of ties between the colonies and the mother country.

At the time the 13 colonies were set on the road to freedom as a sovereign nation the population was 2.5 million.  Today the population of the United States of America is 313.9 million. 

As always, this most American of holidays will be celebrated by citizens with parades, fireworks and barbecues all across the country.


Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Are We Doomed To Repeat History?

I was researching the man who said, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it," George Santayana.

George Santayana was born December 16, 1863 in Madrid Spain, and passed away on September 26, 1952 in Rome, Italy.  He was a philosopher, essayist poet and novelist.  The man was a genius.

This is the full quote from Vol. 1, Reason in Common Sense, and other ways the famous quote has produced variant and paraphrased statements.

"Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement: and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

  • Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.
  • Those who do not remember their past are condemned to repeat their mistakes.
  • Those who do not read history are doomed to repeat it.
  • Those who fail to learn from the mistakes of their predecessors are destined to repeat them.
  • Those who do not know history's mistakes are doomed to repeat them.

Another thought he had on the subject of history repeating itself was from Vol. 5, Reason in Science.  This is my personal favorite...

"History is nothing but assisted and recorded memory. It might almost be said to be no science at all, if memory and faith in memory were not what science necessarily rest on. In order to sift evidence we must rely on some witness, and we must trust experience before we proceed to expand it. The line between what is known scientifically and what has to be assumed in order to support knowledge is impossible to draw. Memory itself is an internal rumour; and when to this hearsay within the mind we add the falsified echoes that reach us from others, we have but a shifting and unseizable basis to build upon. The picture we frame of the past changes continually and grows every day less similar to the original experience which it purports to describe."

What are your thoughts?  Are we doomed to repeat history?

Friday, June 22, 2012

G.I. Bill

G.I., "Government Issue",  is a noun used to describe members of the United States Military and items of their equipment.

On, June 22, 1944, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the G.I. Bill.  It was an unprecedented act of legislation designed to compensate returning members of the armed services for their efforts in World War II.  The American Legion, a veteran's organization, successfully fought for many of the provisions included in the bill, which gave returning servicemen and women access to unemployment compensation, low interest home and business loans, and most importantly funding for education.

By giving G.I.'s money for tuition, living expenses, books, supplies and equipment it transformed higher education in America.  Before the war, college had been an option for only 10-15 percent of young Americans.  By 1947 vets made up half of the nation's college enrollment.  Three years later nearly 500,000 Americans graduated from college, as compared to 160,000 in 1939.

The G.I. Bill became one of the major forces that drove an economic expansion in America after World War II.  Only 20 percent of the money set aside for unemployment compensation under the bill was given out, as most veterans found jobs or pursued higher education.  Low interest home loans enabled millions of American families to move out of urban areas and buy or build homes outside the city, changing the face of the suburbs.  Over 50 years, the impact of the G.I. Bill was enormous, with 20 million veterans and dependents using the education benefits and 14 million home loans guaranteed, for a total federal investment of $67 billion.  Money well spent starting with America's "Greatest Generation".

In 1973 the military went to an all volunteer system rather than the draft.  In 1976 the requirements to qualify for the GI benefits changed and have continued to change through the years.

Thursday, June 14, 2012


In the United States Flag Day is celebrated on June 14.  It is an annual celebration of the adoption of the flag which happened on that day by resolution of the Second Continental Congress in 1777.  As the story goes, Betsy Ross, who was an upholsterer by trade and a fellow parishioner at the Christ Church with George and Martha Washington, sewed the first American Flag in 1776.

On June 14, 1885 BJ Cigrand, a school teacher, arranged for the pupils of Fredonia, Wisconsin Public School to observe the 108th anniversary for the official adoption of The Stars and Stripes as "Flag Birthday".

In 1891, the Betsy Ross House in Philadelphia held a Flag Day celebration.  Over the next 30 years many cities between New York and Pennsylvania held their own celebrations mostly for school children.

Inspired by these three decades of state and local celebrations, Flag Day was officially established by the Proclamation of President Woodrow Wilson on May 30, 1916.  While Flag Day was celebrated in various communities for years after President Wilson's proclamation, it was not until August 3, 1949 that President Truman signed an Act of Congress designating June 14th of each year as National Flag Day.

Monday, June 11, 2012

What Honor Looks Like

What honor looks like: The flash mob at Gate 38 of Reagan National Airport

May 23, 2012
By Chris Muller
Honor is a hard term to describe. It doesn’t have a color or weight or shape. If someone were to ask me what honor looked like, I’d probably struggle with what to say.

But something happened on May 23, 2012 at 9:31 a.m. at Gate 38 of Reagan National Airport that might change that.  A flash mob of sorts broke out. But not like you’ve seen on YouTube with highly choreographed dance numbers or people singing a song in unison.  In fact, virtually all of the participants of this “flash mob” didn’t know they would be participating until moments before it happened.

Let me explain.  Shortly before 9:30 over the loud speakers, a US Airways gate attendant announced that an Honor Flight of World War II veterans would be arriving momentarily and encouraged anyone passing by to help greet them.  Five or six people looked like they were officially part of the welcoming committee, and the rest of the people in the secure section of the airport were regular old travelers going somewhere.  Then I had a terrible thought.  What if these veterans came off the plane and just those five or six individuals were there to greet them.  I walked a gate over to help see the veterans out.  But – then it happened and frankly, I wasn’t expecting it.  All throughout the terminal, people left their gates and gathered around gate 38.  A few active military personnel in plain clothes approached the gate attendant and politely asked if they could  join in the salute within the jet way as the heros first stepped off the plane.  Every human being in the terminal stood at attention and faced the door.  Someone held up an old newspaper from 1945 that had a banner headline that said, “Nazis Quit!”  And when I saw that newspaper, I realized that World War II wasn’t just a chapter in a history book.  It was men and women who saw an evil like the world has never seen before and traveled across the world to meet that evil.  And they defeated it.

I wonder if in 1945, any of those brave soldiers could ever imagine that 67 years later, we’d still be basking in the freedom that they preserved.  And some of those heros were about to walk through Gate 38.  The first soldier walked through the door.  Old, frail and needing help walking.  And every person I could see in the entire airport stood and applauded.  No – maybe cheered is more like it.  But here’s the thing – the applause didn’t stop.  For a full 20 minutes, as veteran by veteran stepped out of the jet way, the US Airways wing of Reagan National Airport thundered in appreciation.  Travelers stepped out for the opportunity to shake their hand while others held back tears.

This is the America we picture in our heads.  Heros getting a hero’s welcome and those who enjoy the freedom adequately conveying their gratitude.

Now, I know what honor looks like.

To see video click on "Freedom Flight" photo.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Pam Murphy

This obituary for Audie Murphy's widow, Pam Murphy, was sent to me by Darryl Adamson.  It was written in 2010, but is so touching it should be printed over and over.  What an example of enduring love she is.  Not just to her husband, but to all veterans.  She was a true patriot.

Los Angeles Daily News  4/14/2010

Pam Murphy, widow of Audie Murphy, was every veterans’ friend and advocate.
Pam Murphy was involved in the Sepulveda VA hospital  and care center over the course
of 35 years, treating every veteran who visited the facility as if they were a VIP. Pam Murphy
died last week at the age of 90.
After Audie died, they all became her boys. Every last one of them.  Any soldier or Marine who walked into the Sepulveda VA hospital and care center in the last 35 years got the VIP treatment from Pam Murphy.  The widow of Audie Murphy – the most decorated soldier in World War II – would walk the hallways with her clipboard in hand making sure her boys got to see a specialist or doctor — STAT. If they didn’t, watch out.

Her boys weren’t Medal of Honor recipients or movie stars like Audie, but that didn’t matter to Pam. They had served their country. That was good enough for her.  She never called a veteran by his first name. It was always “Mister.” Respect came with the job.  “Nobody could cut through VA red tape faster than Mrs. Murphy,” said veteran Stephen Sherman, speaking for thousands of veterans she befriended over the years.
“Many times I watched her march a veteran who had been waiting more than an hour right into the doctor’s office. She was even reprimanded a few times, but it didn’t matter to Mrs. Murphy.  “Only her boys mattered. She was our angel.”

Last week, Sepulveda VA’s angel for the last 35 years died peacefully in her sleep at age 90.  “She was in bed watching the Laker game, took one last breath, and that was it,” said Diane Ruiz, who also worked at the VA and cared for Pam in the last years of her life in her Canoga Park apartment.  It was the same apartment Pam moved into soon after Audie died in a plane crash on Memorial Day weekend in 1971.  Audie Murphy died broke, squandering million of dollars on gambling, bad investments, and yes, other women.  “Even with the adultery and desertion at the end, he always remained my hero,” Pam told me.  She went from a comfortable ranch-style home in Van Nuys where she raised two sons to a small apartment – taking a clerk’s job at the nearby VA to support herself and start paying off her faded movie star husband’s debts.

At first, no one knew who she was. Soon, though, word spread through the VA that the nice woman with the clipboard was Audie Murphy’s widow.  It was like saying Patton had just walked in the front door. Men with tears in their eyes walked up to her and gave her a hug. “Thank you,” they said, over and over.  The first couple of years, I think the hugs were more for Audie’s memory as a war hero. The last 30 years, they were for Pam.

She hated the spotlight. One year I asked her to be the focus of a Veteran’s Day column for all the work she had done. Pam just shook her head no.  “Honor them, not me,” she said, pointing to a group of veterans down the hallway. “They’re the ones who deserve it.”  The vets disagreed. Mrs. Murphy deserved the accolades, they said.

Incredibly, in 2002, Pam’s job was going to be eliminated in budget cuts. She was considered “excess staff."  “I don’t think helping cut down on veterans’ complaints and showing them the respect they deserve, should be considered excess staff,” she told me.  Neither did the veterans. They went ballistic, holding a rally for her outside the VA gates.  Pretty soon, word came down from the top of the VA. Pam Murphy was no longer considered “excess staff.”  She remained working full time at the VA until 2007 when she was 87.  “The last time she was here was a couple of years ago for the conference we had for homeless veterans,” said Becky James, coordinator of the VA’s Veterans History Project.  Pam wanted to see if there was anything she could do to help some more of her boys.

Funeral services for Pam Murphy will be held Friday at 2:30 p.m. in the chapel at Forest Lawn, Hollywood Hills, 6300 Forest Lawn Drive, Los Angeles.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Homestead Act of May 20, 1862

In an effort to populate the Western part of the United States,  President Abraham Lincoln signed the Homestead Act on May 20, 1862.

There had been several earlier attempts to pass this Act.  The Southern Democrats were slave owners and feared that the settlement of the West by small farmers would create an agricultural alternative to the Southern slave system.  The Northern Republicans brought the Act up for vote in 1858 where it was defeated by one vote.  In 1859 the bill passed but was vetoed by President James Buchanan.  The passage was very important to President Lincoln, and with the secession of the Southern States, causing the loss of Southern Democrats in Congress,  the bill was finally passed and signed into law.

The Homestead Act gave a male applicant who was over the age of 21 and head of a household ownership at no cost to farm land, typically 160 acres, west of the Mississippi.  The law required three steps:  file an application, improve the land, and file for a deed of title.  In order to own the land outright you had to build a 12'x14' dwelling and improve the land for five years.  Only about 40 percent of the applicants who started the process were able to complete it because of blizzards, drought, grasshoppers, disease, and loneliness on the open prairies.

The first applicant was a physician and veteran of the Civil War by the name of Daniel Freeman.  He attended a New Year's Eve party where he met some local land office officials and convinced a clerk to open the office shortly after midnight on January 1, 1863, in order to file a land claim by telling him he was leaving early that morning for St. Louis on military duty and would not be able to file his claim otherwise. There is speculation that the St. Louis story was untrue, and that Freeman just wanted to be the first to file.  He was successful in his farming endeavor.  Daniel Freeman was also the first to sign a "Proof Required Under Homestead Acts May 20, 1862..." at the end of the first 5 year requirement.  His witnesses were his neighbors, Joseph Graff and Samuel Kilpatrick.

In 1936 the Department of The Interior recognized Daniel Freeman as the first claimant and established The Homestead National Monument on his homestead near Beatrice, Nebraska.  Today, the monument is administered by the National Park Service, and the site commemorates the changes to the land and the nation brought about by the Homestead Act of 1862.

The Homestead Act was discontinued in 1976, except in Alaska, where it continued until 1986. 

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Mother's Day

On May 9, 1914 President Woodrow Wilson issued a Presidential Proclamation that officially established the first national Mother's Day holiday to celebrate America's mothers.

Two women have been largely credited with the creation of Mother's Day,  Ann Jarvis in 1868 and Julia Ward Howe in 1872.

In New York City, Julia Ward Howe led a "Mother's Day anti-war observance" on June 1, 1872 which was accompanied by a Mother's Day Proclamation.  The observance continued in Boston for 10 years under Ms. Howe's personal sponsorship, then faded out.

In 1868 Ann Jarvis created a committee to establish a "Mother's Friendship Day" whose purpose was "to reunite families that had been divided during the Civil War," and she wanted to expand it into an annual memorial for mothers, but she died in 1905 before the celebration became popular.  Her daughter, Anna Jarvis, continued the campaign to make her mother's dream a reality.

Anna Jarvis continued her push to make Mother's Day a U.S. national holiday.  In 1910 the State of West Virginia declared the second Sunday of May to be the official day to celebrate mothers.  On May 8, 1914, the U.S. Congress passed a law designating the second Sunday in May as "Mother's Day" and requested a proclamation.  On May 9, 1914, President Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation declaring the first national Mother's Day as "a day for American citizens to show the flag in honor of those mothers whose sons had died in war."  Over time this holiday evolved into the celebration of all mothers.

In 2002, President George W. Bush echoed Wilson's sentiments by acknowledging mothers in his official statement on Mother's Day.  He commended foster mothers as well as his own "fabulous mother" for their "love and sacrifice."  He also mentioned past presidents' expressions of appreciation for their mothers.  He quoted John Quincy Adams as having said,  "All that I am my mother made me", and Abraham Lincoln's expression of love to his mother saying, "All that I am or hope to be I owe to my angel mother's prayers that have clung to me all my life."

We at National Write Your Congressman wish all mothers a very blessed Mother's Day!

Friday, May 4, 2012

V-E Day "Victory in Europe"

On May 8, 1945, V-E Day (Victory in Europe), the World War II Allies formally accepted the unconditional surrender of the armed forces of Nazi Germany and the end of Adolf Hitler's Third Reich.  On April 30th Hitler committed suicide during the Battle of Berlin, and his replacement, President of Germany Karl Donitz, authorized the surrender.  The act of military surrender was signed on May 7, 1945 in Reims, France, and ratified on May 8th in Berlin, Germany.

World War II started on September 1, 1939.  These six years of war are known as the most widespread ever fought.  With over 100 million serving in military units, this period is called the deadliest conflict in human history.

When Nazi Germany was defeated celebrations erupted throughout the Western world.  From Moscow to New York, people were in the streets cheering.  In the United Kingdom, more than one million people celebrated in the streets.  In London, crowds gathered in Trafalgar Square and up and down The Mall of Buckingham Palace, where King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, accompanied by Prime Minister Winston Churchill, appeared on the balcony of the palace before the cheering crowds.  Princess Elizabeth, the future Queen of England, and her sister, Princess Margaret,  were allowed to wander anonymously among the crowds and take part in the celebration.

In the United States, President Harry Truman dedicated the victory to the memory of Franklin D. Roosevelt who had died of a cerebral hemorrhage less than a month before.  Huge celebrations also took place in Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami and especially in New York City's Time Square.

The Soviet Union was east of Germany, so they celebrated the surrender on May 9.

The war with Germany ended with the total victory of the Allies. World War II altered the political alignment and social structure of the world. The United Nations was established "to foster international cooperation and prevent future conflicts." The Soviet Union and the United States emerged as rival superpowers, setting the stage for the Cold War, which lasted for the next 46 years. Meanwhile, the influence of European great powers started to decline, while the decolonisation of Asia and Africa began. Most countries whose industries had been damaged moved towards economic recovery. Political integration, especially in Europe, emerged as an effort to stabilize postwar relations.

**The picture to the right is an aspirin box that was made to commemorate V-E Day in 1945.  It was a light cardboard box and read on the back, "Because Steel is Needed for Tanks, Guns, Planes, Ships We Have Adopted This New Victory Package to Help Conserve Metals Needed For The War Effort".  In 1975, this Author, was visiting her great aunt.  I told her I had a headache.  She went to the bathroom and returned with this box of aspirins for me to take!  I declined the offer, but did ask her if I could have the box.  God bless Aunt Eva.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Saving Social Security

This week's annual Social Security trustee report said the program would be unable to pay full benefits in the year 2033, three years earlier than projected in the same report last year.  Even so, if nothing was done, Social Security could pay its full benefits for 21 more years and then still be able to pay 75 percent of those benefits after that. So, we're talking about heading off a 25 percent spending shortfall more than two decades away.

Still, 20 years is not far off in terms of gradually implementing changes that would provide for the program's longer-term needs while not forcing jarring changes on people already retired or within 10 years of retiring. The program's smaller disability insurance component is only four years from insolvency.

Lastly, the options for dealing with Social Security's financial needs have been studied to death and then some. There are few surprises here. And there aren't serious ideological issues either, at least not by comparison with the intractable tax-and-spend tug of war that has paralyzed Congress of late. But compromises would be needed.

The three most prominently advanced reforms are to reduce the size of the annual cost of living adjustment, raise the retirement age, and lift the ceiling on earnings subject to payroll taxes. It's now at $110,100 a year, but because high earners have fared so well in recent years, the program taxes a smaller percentage of the nation's wage income than it used to.

The Simpson-Bowles deficit restructuring plan of late 2010 included these and other suggested Social Security reforms. They provide a well-researched starting point for changing the program. The Social Security components of that plan could be peeled off, introduced separately, and subjected to extensive House and Senate hearings.

If Congress and the White House were serious, the program could be put on solid financial ground again well before the elections. And because Social Security has historically been separate from the rest of the federal budget, its needs could be addressed without opening up that much bigger can of worms.

**US News-Money

Monday, April 9, 2012

145 Years Ago Lee Surrendered To Grant

On April 6, 1865, General Robert E. Lee was attempting to link up with General Joseph E. Johnston's Army of Tennessee and go on the offensive.  On his way Sheridan's cavalry and elements of the II and VI Corps. cut them off and causing most of the 7,700 Confederates to surrender.  The delay prevented Lee from reaching the station by late afternoon on April 8, allowing Sheridan to reach the station, where he captured Lee's supplies and obstructed his path.

Following a minor battle in Cumberland Church and High Bridge, on April 7, Grant sent a note to Lee suggesting that it was time to surrender the Army of Northern Virginia.  General Lee sent a return note refusing the request, but asked General Grant what terms he had in mind.  On April 8, the Union cavalry captured and burned three supply trains waiting for Lee's army at the Battle Appomattox Station. 

With his supplies at Appomattox destroyed, Lee now looked west, to the railway at Lynchburg, where more supplies were waiting for him.  Now all that lay between Lee and Lynchburg was the Union Cavalry.  Lee hoped to break through before the infantry arrived.  He sent a note to Grant saying that he did not wish to surrender his army just yet but was willing to discuss how Grant's terms would affect the Confederacy.

At dawn on April 9, the Confederates under Major General John B. Gordon attacked Sheridan's cavalry and quickly forced back the first line Under Brig.General Ranald S. Mackenzie and George Crook.  Gordon's troops charged through the Union lines and took the ridge, but as they reached the crest they saw the entire Union XXIV Corps in line of battle with the Union V Corps to their right.  When Lee's cavalry saw this they immediately withdrew and rode off towards Lynchburg. Colonel Charles Venable of Lee's staff rode in and asked for an assessment, and Gordon gave him a reply he knew Lee did not want to hear.  "Tell General Lee I have fought my corps to a frazzle, and I fear I can do nothing unless I am heavily supported by Longstreet's corps."  After hearing this Lee finally stated the inevitable, "Then there is nothing left for me to do but to go and see General Grant and I would rather die a thousand deaths."

At 8:00 a.m., General Lee rode out to meet General Grant, accompanied by three of his aides.

General Grant received Lee's letter on the morning of April 9, 1865.  He replied to Lee, "General, Your note of this date is but this moment, 11:50 a.m. received, in consequence of my having passed from Richmond and Lynchburg road.  I am at this writing about four miles West of Walker's Church and will push forward to the front for the purpose of meeting you.  Notice sent to me on this road where you wish the interview to take place."

It was a show of remarkable respect that he let General Lee choose the spot for his surrender.  Appomattox Court House, a small village of twenty buildings, was chosen as the location.  The brick home of Wilmer McLean was the site.

Dressed in an immaculate uniform, Lee waited for Grant to arrive.  Grant arrived in a mud-spattered uniform, government issue flannel shirt with trousers tucked into muddy boots, and no sidearms.  It was the first time the two men had seen each other face-to-face in almost two decades.  Suddenly overcome with sadness, Grant found it hard to get to the point of the meeting and instead the two generals briefly discussed their only previous encounter, during the Mexican-American War.

The terms of the surrender were recorded in a document completed and signed around 4 p.m. April 9, 1865.  The nightmare of a civil war fought between neighbors, brothers, relatives of all kinds, and citizens of the United States was finally over.

In reality, it was not until June 23, 1865 that the last confederates finally received word that the war was over, surrendered,  laid down their arms and went home.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

"Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day"

Today, March 27, 2012, the U.S. Senate unanimously declared March 30th "Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day".

On March 30, 1973, all U.S. troops withdrew from Vietnam under the terms of the Treaty of Paris.  They returned to a country that was tired of the war and hostile towards the soldiers that had bravely served their country.  It was horribly shameful how these soldiers, who were under the draft system, were shown no honor at all.  There were no crowds at the airports to welcome them home.  They were disrespected and called "warmongers".

Senator Richard Burr said, "I'm pleased that the Senate has agreed to set aside a day to give our Vietnam veterans a warm, long-overdue welcome home.  I strongly encourage communities throughout North Carolina and across the country to observe this day with activities and events that honor these veterans for their service.  It's time they receive the recognition they have earned and deserve.  This day also provides our nation with an important teaching moment.  Never again should our men and women serving in the armed forces receive the same treatment as those returning from Vietnam."

During the course of the Vietnam War 58,193 members of the United States Armed Forces lost their lives, and more than 300,000 were wounded.   Out of the 58,193 soldiers that were killed 51,968 were under the age of 30.  Eight were women.  These were boys and girls who went from the football field to the battle field.

On March 30 please make a special effort to thank all Vietnam Veterans for their brave service to this nation.

Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans and thank you for your service from all of us at National Write Your Congressman.

On a personal note, this author still has her MIA (Missing In Action) bracelet from the Vietnam war.  Mine was Major Gregg Hartness whose plane went down on Nov. 26, 1968.  Major Hartness' remains were found and identified on July 2, 2005.  I want to personally thank Major Hartness and his family for their sacrifice.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

History, The Olympics, Afghanistan

Looking forward to the Summer Olympic Games being played in London, one might reflect back to 1980 and the Games that did not happen for the U.S. Olympians because of the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan.

Because the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, President Jimmy Carter announced that the U.S. would boycott the Olympics scheduled to take place in Moscow that summer if the Soviets did not withdraw their troops by February 20, 1980.

The Soviet military invaded Afghanistan in 1979 to reinforce the country's communist regime against Islamic rebel forces. In a statement made after the invasion, Carter spoke out against the Soviet Union, specifically Premier Leonid Brezhnev, and said the invasion was a deliberate effort by a powerful atheistic government to subjugate an independent Islamic people that he called a stepping stone to Soviet control over Afghanistan's oil supplies. Brezhnev dismissed Carter's statements as "bellicose and wicked". The invasion threatened to revive the Cold War, which, during the late 1970s, had appeared to undergo a temporary thaw. President Carter said his opinion of the Russians had changed drastically since the beginning of his administration.

In addition to the boycott, Carter increased pressure on the Soviets to abandon the war in Afghanistan by issuing a trade embargo on two U.S. goods that the country desperately needed, grain and information technology. He also restricted Soviet fishing in American-controlled ocean waters. Carter called on the U.N. to provide military equipment, food and other assistance to help Afghanistan's neighbors, especially Iran and Pakistan to fight off further Soviet encroachment.

Canada, West Germany and Japan joined the U.S. in boycotting the games.  President Carter failed to convince Great Britain, France, Greece and Australia to also observe the boycott. When an international coalition suggested that the boycotting nations send athletes to compete under a neutral Olympic banner, Carter threatened to revoke the passport of any U.S. athlete who attempted to do so.  Reaction to Carter's decision was mixed. Many Americans pitied the athletes who had worked so hard toward their goal of competing in the Olympics and who might not qualify to compete in the next games in 1984. At the same time, the boycott symbolized commitment many Americans felt to fighting the oppressive, anti-democratic Soviet regime.

In retaliation for Carter's action, the Soviet Union boycotted the 1984 Olympic Games held in Los Angeles.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Women Sacrifice During the Revolution

On March 12, 1776, in Baltimore, Maryland, a public notice appeared in the local paper recognizing the sacrifice of women to the cause of the revolution.  "The necessity of taking all imaginable care of those who may happen to be wounded in the country's cause, urges us to address our humane ladies, to lend us their kind assistance in furnishing us with linen rags and old sheeting, for bandages." 

On and off the battlefield, women were known to support the revolutionary cause by providing nursing assistance.  However, this was not their only form of aid or sacrifice to the cause.  The boycotts that united the colonies against British taxation required female participation far more than male. In fact, the men designing the non-importation agreements generally chose to boycott products used mostly by women.  Tea and cloth are the two best examples.

When we read of the bravery of the male colonists dressing up as Mohawk Indians and dumping large volumes of tea into Boston Harbor as a form of opposition to the Tea Act, few realize that women, not men, drank most of the tea.  Samuel Adams and his friends dumped the tea in the harbor, but they were far more likely to drink rum than tea when they returned to their homes.  Similarly, when John Adams and other men in power thought it best to stop importing fine British fabrics with which to make their clothing during the protests of the late 1760s, it had little impact on their daily lives.  Wearing homespun cloth may not have been as comfortable nor look as refined as their regular clothing, but it was Abigail Adams and other colonial women who were forced to spend hours spinning the cloth to create their family's wardrobes.

According to history, in 1776 Abigail begged John to remember the ladies while drafting the U.S. Constitution.  She was not begging a favor, but demanding payment of an enduring debt.


Monday, March 5, 2012

The Boston Massacre

On March 5, 1770, a mob of American colonists gathered at the Customs House in Boston and began taunting the British soldiers guarding the building. The protesters, who called themselves Patriots, were protesting the occupation of their city by British troops, who were sent to Boston in 1768 to enforce unpopular taxation measures passed by a British parliament that lacked American representation.

British Captain Thomas Preston, the commanding officer at the Customs House, ordered his men to fix their bayonets and join the guard outside the building. The colonists responded by throwing snowballs and other objects at the British regulars, and Private Hugh Montgomery was hit, leading him to discharge his rifle at the crowd. The other soldiers began firing a moment later, and when the smoke cleared, five colonists were dead or dying—Crispus Attucks, Patrick Carr, Samuel Gray, Samuel Maverick, and James Caldwell—and three more were injured. The deaths of the five men are regarded by some historians as the first fatalities in the American Revolutionary War.

The British soldiers were put on trial, and patriots John Adams and Josiah Quincy agreed to defend the soldiers in a show of support of the colonial justice system. When the trial ended in December 1770, two British soldiers were found guilty of manslaughter and had their thumbs branded with an "M" for murder as punishment.

The Sons of Liberty, a Patriot group formed in 1765 to oppose the Stamp Ace, advertised the "Boston Massacre" as a battle for American liberty and just cause for the removal of British troops from Boston. Patriot Paul Revere made a provocative engraving of the incident, depicting the British soldiers lining up like an organized army to suppress an idealized representation of the colonist uprising. Copies of the engraving were distributed throughout the colonies and helped reinforce negative American sentiments about British rule.

In April 1775, the American Revolution began when British troops from Boston skirmished with American militiamen at the battles of Lexington and Concord. The British troops were under orders to capture Patriot leaders Samuel Adams and John Hancock in Lexington and to confiscate the Patriot arsenal at Concord. Neither missions were accomplished because of Paul Revere and William Dawes, who rode ahead of the British, warning Adams and Hancock and rousing the Patriot minutemen. Eleven months later, in March 1776, British forces had to evacuate Boston following American General George Washington's successful placement of fortifications and cannons on Dorchester Heights. This bloodless liberation of Boston brought an end to the hated eight-year British occupation of the city. For the victory, General Washington, commander of the Continental Army, was presented with the first medal ever awarded by the Continental Congress. It would be more than five years before the Revolutionary War came to an end with British General Charles Cornwallis' surrender to Washington at Yorktown, Virginia.

We think of these men as Revolutionaries and signers of the Declaration of Independence, which gives you a vision of older men in white wigs. Born American, these young men in their 20s and 30s with great courage and conviction stood up against the government that had all the power over them.  There would be no more taxation without representation for them.  They were a new country called America battling against the tyranny of the home country of England.  It would be five more years before they won their freedom.