Saturday, December 27, 2014

Resort youngster has World War One poem published after national competition

A youngster who has penned a poem about the Great War, has seen her work published following a national competition.
Hannah Louise Taylor, a pupil at Greenbank High School, entered the War of Words poetry competition run by Young Writers for 11 to 18-year-olds, with her work “The Great War.”
The 15-year-old said she took inspiration from the experiences of her great grandfather, Tommy Taylor, who was in the cavalry and the trenches during the conflict, as well as from some of her lessons at school.
She told the Visiter: “It is strange to think that people will read my poem, but it is great.”
Despite having a natural talent for poetry, Hannah said she wants to pursue a career in law as this is a subject area that interests her – especially criminal law.
Her family made up of her dad, Steven, 55, brother, William, 12, and grandmother, Alma, who live in Churchtown – said they already have the book, War of Words - Northern Poets, published by Young Writers, on order.
Alma, 79, said: “We are so very proud of her. I am bursting with joy, she really knuckles down to her revision and homework – she is great.”
With a family full of keen readers, Alma said this is perhaps where her granddaughter’s ability may have come from – Hannah who also has a black belt in jujutsu is now looking to study English Literature at A level.
She added: “If Hannah is missing, you know she is reading, once she discovered books there was no holding her back.”
The 150 page poetry book is set to be released in February 2015.


The Great War

In ‘Flanders’ Field’, the poppies blow,
Each for a man who died long ago.
When the battle of the Somme did commence,
Losses became even more immense.

Best of friends fighting side-by-side,
Half wishing they could turn back and hide.
Crimson flowing through the rich, French soil,
This is the story of their toil.

Over six million laid down their lives,
A stabbing pain, far worse than knives.
Loved ones mourning, for they’ll never return,
Each day the bitterness a fresh, new, searing burn.

“The war to end all wars”, they had said,
In ‘No Mans’ Land’, Our Boys lay dead.
All of the lives that were lost,
Came at such a tremendous cost.

Oh! “The Great War”, where to start?
Why did you break so many hearts?
Young men sent away to war,
Didn’t think they were done for.

For King and Country they gave their lives,
Whilst thinking of their darling wives.
The snipers night-time flares did burn,
As loved ones yearned for their safe return.

We may have won the war,
But that which we have lost is so much more.
This day we recall the struggles and fears,
Of those four bloody and death filled years.

We remember those who did not yield,
Now laid to rest in ‘Flanders’ Field’.
Yet, I see looking at our world today,
Peace must have come and gone away.

Hannah Louise Taylor

The Unsubstantial Air: Telling the story of American aviation in WWI

The Unsubstantial Air: Telling the story of American aviation in WWI

Michael Carey
OPINION: World War I has been called the great war. It was -- for the development of aviation, for the young Americans who took to the exhilarating if unsubstantial air. Pictured: Lafayette Escadrille pilots in France, March 1916, with dog Fram and a Nieuport 17. L to R: V. Chapman, E. Cowdin, Wm. Thaw, N. Prince, K. Rockwell, B. Hall, Lt. Delnage, J.K. McConnell, Capt. Thenault.public domain
From the moment the Wright brothers successfully launched their 21-foot Flyer at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, in 1903, aviation advocates began promoting the airplane as a weapon.  
The 10 years before World War I were a decade of experimentation and innovation. It took the war to make the airplane a lethal force.
The Europeans were the leaders -- they were performing combat flying before the United States entered the war in April 1917. But a few Americans intoxicated with flight did not wait to discover whether Uncle Sam would join the conflict. In the days after the shooting began in the summer of 1914, they were off to fly for France in the Lafayette Escadrille.
"The Unsubstantial Air: American Fliers in the First World War" by Samuel Hynes (Farrar, Strauss and Giroux) is their story -- and the story of those who followed them into the fray above Europe.
"Lafayette Escadrille" sounds so aristocratic -- pairing the famed marquis' name with the French for squadron -- and the Americans who joined early were something of aristocrats, almost exclusively privileged college men from the Ivy League or southern bastions of entitlement like the University of Virginia or Washington and Lee. Why? Who else could afford flying other than the rare young mechanic who built his own airplane. Most Americans of 1914 had never seen an airplane and certainly could not buy one. By World War I, the automobile had become a democratic form of technology, increasingly made for the masses. The airplane that first attracted a mass audience, the Piper Cub J-3, went into production almost 20 years after World War I.
Hynes, 90, is emeritus professor of literature at Princeton. His clear, sharp prose befits a man who has spent a career studying nuance, articulating complexity. But he is also a former combat pilot who fought his own air battles during World War II. He remembers when his career as a pilot started among "... small boys ... who wore helmets and goggles to school in the winter, (running) around the school yard at recess, their arms stuck out like wings, uttering what they hoped was the sound of machine guns and shouting 'Look at me! I'm Eddie Rickenbacker!' or 'I'm the Red Baron.' "
Fantasy. And that's what air warfare remained for the young Americans of the Lafayette Escadrille until, after months of training, they finally were sent into combat -- some as pursuit pilots, others as spotters, yet others at the controls of bombers. The pursuit pilots, as Hynes explains in detail, had by far the most status. They were knights of the air, cavaliers of combat, who did battle high above mere mortals locked in trench warfare below.
Until the day they did not return to their home field.
Apparently more young men -- they referred to themselves as boys -- were killed in accidents than in combat. Flying was inherently dangerous in early machines that were technically limited. Yet the romance of aviation persisted. Poets didn't go flying in this war, or, more precisely, they didn't go flying because they were poets. It was up to trained pilots with poetic instincts to capture the feelings and create the imagery of flight.  

Hynes quotes 20 year-old Alan Nichols, who said the view from the air "is absolutely unique, and different from anything else, even a view from a cliff or a mountain, because it is all around and even straight below you. There is absolutely none of the sensation one gets from a high building, a cliff in Yosemite or a bridge. There is a feeling of absolute security, as if it were an absurd thing to think of falling. You have no idea how high you are, and there is no way of seeing that you are suspended there on apparently nothing. It seems natural."
"Apparently nothing" is the unsubstantial air -- a phrase Hynes took from Shakespeare's King Lear.
Pilots had never seen cloud banks up close. Nor had they been shot at while at 10,000 feet. Or joined a giant bombing raid involving 100 or more aircraft, some bombers with a wing span of 100 feet. Everything was new, and when pilots wrote home they were often explaining their experiences for the first time.
Hynes introduces us to pilots whom we have never heard of, like Nichols. Absent from his pages are fliers who became legends in Alaska after the war, Carl Ben Eielson for one. Eielson, born in 1897, was in training when the war ended in November 1918. (The nation's most celebrated flier ever, Charles Lindbergh, born in 1902, did not begin flying until after the war, and like Eielson was shaped by the results of the conflict, not combat.)
There was an American in France, however, who seems almost like Lindbergh's twin in the discipline and attention to detail he brought to flying -- Fletcher McCordic of Winnetka, Illinois. McCordic, older than most of his fellow pilots, "had an engineer's mind," Hynes writes, "practical and exact; he saw his flying duties as technical procedures, to be performed thoroughly and correctly, and as often as possible." He had a pilot's license before he joined the military, unlike virtually everyone else around him. His awed messmates called him "General" or "Gen." He was pilot, mechanic, navigator and engineer all in one -- the prototype of the ideal American flier.
Pilots at the controls of open cockpit aircraft not only fought the enemy, they struggled with the weather, including winter cold. My friend Jerome Lardy asked the bush pilot Sam White how cold was too cold to fly open cockpit in Alaska.
"After 40 below." Sam replied.
Jerome shivered -- a gesture that moved Sam to remark, "Ah Jerome, you're just a steam-heated sourdough."
World War I has been called the great war. It was -- for the development of aviation, for the young Americans who took to the exhilarating if unsubstantial air.
Michael Carey is an Alaska Dispatch News columnist.
The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)

Nevermore Into the Breach In the Civil War, cowards were branded withthe letter ‘C’ on the hip or, later in the war, on the forehead.

Standing by A 1917 recruitment poster.ENLARGE
Standing by A 1917 recruitment posterLIBRARY OF CONGRESS
On July 21, 1861, hundreds of curiosity seekers and politicians filled their picnic hampers and piled into carriages for the 20-mile ride from Washington, D.C., to Manassas Junction. The day was insufferably hot, but the Virginia summer did little to alter the atmosphere of general merriment. The crowd of spectators expected to witness nothing less than a heroic battle that would conclude with victory and the reunification of the country. What they saw instead was panic and confusion, entire companies of men dazed and bloodstained, some screaming in pain, some weeping and running from the battlefield as fast as they could, others stunned by what they had just experienced in the fields and woods where the battle had transpired. The fear was contagious. Hearing hysterical soldiers shriek, “Turn back! Turn back! We are whipped!” the civilians departed in as hurried and disorganized a fashion as the disgraced Army of the Potomac.
Such scenes provide the backdrop of Chris Walsh’s “Cowardice: A Brief History,” a philosophical meditation on behavior usually considered too contemptible for serious consideration. Mr. Walsh ranges freely through history—a single paragraph may veer from Dante’s cowards suffering in hell’s antechamber to our use of the term to describe the Boston Marathon bombers—but his book is guided by an overriding premise: While courage attracts most of our attention, a rigorous analysis of cowardice may in fact be far more useful in moral terms. Thinking about cowardice, Mr. Walsh suggests, enables us to reflect more critically about the conflict between duty and self-interest, between engagement with movements larger than ourselves and primal fear


By Chris Walsh
Princeton, 292 pages, $27.95
That conflict has changed over time, especially as warfare became more industrial, more impersonal. Do the concepts of duty and cowardice mean the same thing, for instance, to a yeoman fighting in the War of the Roses and the person operating a drone from 1,000 miles away? Aristotle’s disciple Theophrastus depicted the coward as a person who would do anything to avoid hand-to-hand combat. Does this definition even make sense anymore?
As with so many other aspects of American history, the Civil War serves as a kind of hinge between traditional and more modern ways of thinking about such matters, which is no doubt why Mr. Walsh spends most of his time examining this formative conflict. In the early years of the war, around the time of Bull Run, cowards were often branded with the letter “C”—first on the hip and then, when it became apparent that many of them would rather suffer this ignominy than face enemy fire, on the face or forehead.
A few years of protracted combat resulted in greater tolerance for showing “the white feather,” as cowardice was then called. “Deal gently with these leg cases,” Abraham Lincoln advised a judge advocate general, referring to soldiers who ran from combat, “. . . for no doubt many a pair of cowardly legs has run away with a valiant heart.” Not every leader was so lenient. Execution remained a punishment for desertion well into the 20th century, prompting Rudyard Kipling’s mordant observation in a couplet titled “The Coward”: “I could not look on Death, which being known, / Men led me to him, blindfold and alone.” 
The Civil War also marked the medicalization of cowardly behavior, and hence the softening of attitudes toward it. What was once called shell shock, and is now termed term post-traumatic stress disorder, was observed early on by Union and Confederate medics, who described the malady as “nostalgia” and “soldier’s heart.” Mr. Walsh discusses how the diagnosis of war trauma throughout the 20th century has helped alleviate the stigma of cowardice. But he also considers how the proliferation of such diagnoses is susceptible to abuse. The National Vietnam Veterans Readjustment Study reported in 1988 that close to one million of the U.S. soldiers serving in Vietnam suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder—a number more than triple the number of combat veterans from the entire war. Our wholesale acceptance of PTSD, Mr. Walsh speculates, may serve broader social purposes. As a nation we “are militarily active,” he writes, “because most of us don’t have to pay the price for our military activity. . . .To cover for our unwillingness to sacrifice ourselves, we call all the soldiers heroes and leave it at that.”
By the middle of the 20th century, with populations scarred by two world wars and the ominous threat of nuclear annihilation, fear and cowardice came to seem the only sane response to overwhelming force. Nothing was more absurd to veterans of World War I’s trench warfare than Horace’s dictum, “It is sweet and proper to die for one’s country.” The World War II pilots in Joseph Heller’s “Catch-22” or the real-life recruits who burned their draft cards during Vietnam became admirable antiheroes, the only competent judges of right and wrong in a world gone mad. 
Which leads to what is perhaps the most compelling but also the shortest topic considered in Mr. Walsh’s book: moral cowardice. Mark Twain, who participated for a week or two in the Civil War before calling it quits and moving west, once observed that “you are a coward when you even seem to have backed down from a thing you openly set out to do.” Twain’s comment suggests that we have a duty to ourselves, an obligation to honor the courage of our convictions. To avoid this thorny responsibility is a dereliction of that duty. “The greatest evil perpetrated is the evil committed by nobodies,” Hannah Arendt declared in a similar vein, “that is, by human beings who refuse to be persons.” When we waver, Hamlet-like, before the pressing task of defending an unpopular opinion, when we pretend not to see and therefore fail to act against the myriad injustices that comprise our daily life, we are, in Arendt’s terms, refusing to be a person, failing the duty to ourselves. As Mr. Walsh writes: “Being courageous may not be necessary to realize your self, but not being cowardly is.”
“Cowardice: A Brief History” is most valuable, however, for the way it refuses to settle any of these issues. Like a geologist turning over a fragment of igneous rock, Mr. Walsh considers his subject from every angle, and then considers it again. In this way he resembles the most underrated poet of the Civil War, Herman Melville. At a time when Melville’s contemporaries were celebrating the first wave of volunteers by comparing them to “new-fledged eagles” who met “unscared the dazzling front of day,” Melville was more concerned with imagining what it felt like to hear the slap of bullets into the meat of the person next to you, to see bloody pieces of human beings scattered underfoot, and to march nevertheless toward an enemy entrenched less than a hundred yards away. 
In his great poem about Bull Run, “The March Into Virginia (Ending in the First Manassas),” he asks, if young soldiers knew in advance all the obstacles “To every just or larger end, / Whence should come the trust and cheer?” What we mistake for courage, Melville suggests, is really our unwillingness to imagine the consequences of our actions: “Youth must its ignorant impulse lend— / Age finds place in the rear. / All wars are boyish, and are fought by boys.”
Throughout history, war has tested the mettle of those who must wage it and who sometimes fail to rise to its challenges. But everyday life, Mr. Walsh reminds us, can also be arduous and result in cowardly evasion. He alludes to instances of individual failings that may “haunt our deathbed recollections—the problems and possibilities avoided, the deadening habits, the talents buried, the longings dismissed, the duties we fail in fear, the fears we fail to confront.” Clearly, cowardice is an indispensable concept for living a life that we may bravely face.
—Mr. Fuller is the author of “From Battlefields Rising: How the Civil War Transformed American Literature.”

Ridge 'flattered' to narrate documentary about Iwo Jima flag-raiser Strank - WWII

JOHNSTOWN, Pa. (Tribune News Service) — Tom Ridge’s voice will tell the “powerful story” of Iwo Jima and local Marine Corps Sgt. Michael Strank.
Strank, who grew up in Franklin Borough, and fellow Marines were immortalized after photographer Joe Rosenthal snapped a Pulitzer Prize-winning image of them raising a flag over Iwo Jima on Feb. 23, 1945.
“Our Flag Still Waves,” a documentary about Strank and the South Pacific battle, is nearing completion.
Bob Eyer, a lead organizer of the project, said the movie will debut on Feb. 21, at the Cambria County War Memorial Arena – just ahead of the 70th anniversary of that famous World War II moment.
Ridge provided voice-over narration for the film.
“This is a very personal and powerful documentary,” Ridge said by phone Tuesday. “I was flattered to be asked to be part of it.”
A monument depicting Strank and five other Marines raising the flag – Harlon Block, Franklin Sousley, Ira Hayes, Rene Gagnon and John Bradley – was dedicated on Veterans Day in Franklin.
Strank was killed in action less than a week after that moment of triumph on Iwo Jima.
“The story reveals so much about the courage of these men and what they went through. I’m sure not many people realize that several of them died within a few days,” said Ridge, who was Pennsylvania governor from January 1995 to October 2001, when he was named the country’s first director of homeland security by President George W. Bush following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Rosenthal’s photograph was the inspiration for the U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial in Washington, D.C.
“Anybody who is aware of American history, the battles and battlefields, the places and the people, has a familiarity with this monument and moment,” Ridge said. “That stood out
– that higher visibility than almost any other place in the country, both the battle of Iwo Jima and the monument that serves as a reflection upon that battle and the heroism. It’s certainly one of the most recognizable and powerful monuments in America.”
Ridge noted irony in his selection to narrate the film. He was an Army sergeant in Vietnam, and is telling the story of a World War II Marine.
Eyer, of Wessel and Co. in Johnstown, said the Army-Marines connection was no accident.
“We looked a lot of high-profile people across the country and decided we would focus on Gov. Ridge,” Eyer said. “He had the same kind of military background as Michael Strank – soldiers in the infantry and squad leaders, which is the heart and soul of any infantry organization. And him being from Pennsylvania also was a really big part of it.”
Ridge and Strank share another common bond. Both are of Carpatho-Rusyn descent.
“It’s a small group of Americans that can look back to that heritage,” the former governor said. “We’re very proud of that.”
Strank was born Michal Strenk in the former Czechoslovakia before growing up in Cambria County.
Ridge said Franklin’s native son represents the region’s service during World War II – and in other conflicts before and after.
“Nearly 900 people from Cambria County died in World War II,” Ridge said. “Everybody in the county must have known someone who died or someone who lost a son or brother. That’s incredible.”
A local company, Wix Pix Productions, is creating the film.
Footage was shot in the Johns-town region, and also at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia, and the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Triangle, Virginia.
Ridge said Wix Pix sent him the text, then a crew met with him last week in Washington, D.C., to record his narration.
“They sent me the script in advance and I practiced,” he said. “I only made one or two word changes. I spent some time reading it out loud, marking the narrative up as I went.
“I spent the same amount of time on it as I would have for a speech in front of a large audience. This is a story that matters.”
He added: “We worked through the script and production plan second by second.
“What I think will be especially exciting for me is to see how these individual increments weave together into the tapestry of the larger story.”
Ridge predicted that those who view the documentary will feel a surge of patriotism in their hearts.
“This film is really well done,” Ridge said. “I really enjoyed narrating this. It felt really good to be part of it. It’s such a powerful story.”
Ridge hopes to attend the February debut of the film on the anniversary of the battle of Iwo Jima.
“If I am in the country and on the East?Coast,” he said, “I would love to do it.”
Contributions to the Sgt. Michael Strank Project may be sent to the Community Foundation for the Alleghenies.
Supporting organizations are Veterans Memorial Monument Inc., Conemaugh Valley Veterans, Franklin VFW, Franklin Borough and Marine Corps League.
Eyer said the Sgt. Michael Strank Project has a goal of $30,000 to offset the costs association with making the film.
The effort had reached about $20,000 by Christmas, with other dollars committed.
Individuals and corporations can still contribute.
“This is a local project, but with significant effort and financial commitment,”?Eyer said. “I believe (Ridge’s team) saw that this was going to be a quality documentary. It didn’t take a whole lot of convincing.”
Eyer said the group hopes to attract “a high-ranking active-duty Marine general” to speak at the Feb. 21 ceremony and film premiere.
The nation is seeing “the last hurrah for the Greatest Generation,” Eyer said. “They have had a huge impact on this country over the last 50 years – government, technology, business.
And just by providing a great example of patriotism and service.
“We’re trying to preserve the memory of one World War II soldier, but it’s really about all of them. They are passing away so rapidly. We wanted to capture the essence of the World War II experience for anyone of this area. Really, we’re honoring the many military veterans in this area.”
Ridge agreed.
“This project is a testament to Michael Strank,” Ridge said. “At the same time, it’s a tribute to the sacrifices made by everybody in that war – and every war since then.”
©2014 The Tribune-Democrat (Johnstown, Pa.)
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