Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Marjory Stoneman Douglas – More Than a High School Atrocity

The February 21, 2018 edition of the New York Times ran an interesting essay by Mary Lou Foy of The Miami Herald via Reuters on the woman for whom the high school in Parkland, Florida is named.  I am guessing those who never spent much time in Florida have ever heard the name Marjory Stoneman Douglas (1890-1998) until it was connected to the second most lethal school shooting in US history on February 14.

Despite many visits to Florida over the years, including the three years I spent there as an undergraduate in college, I am sad to admit that I had never heard of her either until the spring of 1994 when I presented a paper at the annual meeting of the Florida Historical Society in Fort Myers.  Sitting in a beach tiki bar one evening a colleague who was an authority on Ms. Douglas brought me up to snuff on this fascinating woman.  I don’t want her name to only be associated with a needless and senseless atrocity, one more in a long string of school shootings which our leaders, our government, wants to do nothing about as it would interdict the ready and steady flow of cash flowing into their coffers from the National Rifle Association.  I am proud to see and hear the surviving students in Parkland, and others joining them around the United States, learning an important lesson in activism from Ms. Douglas.   That is perhaps a greater tribute to her memory than any other than can be afforded her. 
Marjory Stoneman was born in 1890 in Minnesota where she was raised.  Her father was a judge and her mother a concert violinist.   She went East in 1908 and graduated from Wellesley College, near Boston, in 1912.   She married Kenneth Douglas, a local newspaper journalist, in 1914 but she soon realized this was a mistake and in the autumn of 1915 an uncle encouraged her to make the move south to Miami where fewer than 5,000 people lived there.   She joined her father Frank Stoneman, who in 1903 became the first publisher of the Miami Evening Record, the newspaper that would in 1910 become The Miami Herald.  Marjory worked for a time as a reporter for the paper before going overseas during World War I, serving with the American Red Cross in France, Belgium, Italy and in the Balkans.  She returned to the paper after the war and worked for a time as an assistant editor. She eventually left the paper in 1923.

During her early years in South Florida, Douglas took up the activist cause of responsible urban planning as the population grew by more than 100,000 inhabitants over the course of a single decade.  She opposed the policy instituted by Napoleon Bonaparte Broward, the former Florida governor (1905-1909), to drain the Everglades in order to reclaim land for agricultural cultivation in South Florida.  This advocacy would continue long after she gave up newspaper journalism.

From 1920 until her centenary in 1990, she wrote and published dozens of articles, young adult fiction stories, and numerous book reviews.  The natural South Florida landscape, especially the Everglades, and its animal inhabitants were recurring themes in her fictional stories while she continued to write on environmental issues and in support of the women’s suffrage movement, civil rights and the revocation of Prohibition.  She served on the editorial board of the new University of Miami Press, and supported the Junior Museum of Miami and slum clearance in Coconut Grove where she lived in an English-styled cottage from 1926 until the end of her life.

Douglas continued to oppose the draining of the Everglades while advocating for its preservation.  She lead the campaign
to have the central core of the Everglades preserved as a national park in 1947, the same year her seminal book, The Everglades: River of Grass, was published by Rinehart & Company as part of a book series focusing on US rivers.  It remains in print 70 years after its publication and it has become a classic treatise on the importance of US wetlands; the Everglades being the largest.  They are not useless swamps, but rather a complex system of tenuous ecosystems.  The Everglades is actually no swamp at all, but a 60 mile wide, 100 mile long shallow river running from Lake Okeechobee in the north to Florida Bay in the south.  Even today the Everglades are continually subjected to over-drainage, pollution from adjacent agriculture, and the encroachment of urban sprawl along its eastern margins.  The population of what is now the Miami metropolitan area has grown from 100,000 to over six million in the past century roughly coinciding with Ms. Douglas’ lifetime.  Who can deny the Everglades are under assault and require protection?  I saw this damage up close during my own first visit to the Everglades in 2010.  Ms. Douglas understood this threat perhaps better than anyone.  I read her book while I was there.  The first sentence says it all.  ''There are no other Everglades in the world.''

Douglas was one of the founders of the Friends of the Everglades in 1969 and today it has over 5,000 members . . . the population of Miami when she first arrived there.  The organization has at its goal that this “vast, magnificent, subtle and unique region of the Everglades may not be utterly lost.''  She continued to speak out against those who plundered the Everglades wishing that one day the message would get through to those who refused to recognize the importance of this valuable and irreplaceable ecosystem.  ''I am neither an optimist nor a pessimist. I say it's got to be done.''

In the mid-1990s the Clinton administration endorsed efforts during Douglas’ lifetime to stop this plunder and to restore the Everglades’ natural water flow.  Naturally this was opposed by agribusiness, especially the sugar industry, which claimed that the damage to the Everglades was the result of urban sprawl.  The battle continues to this very day.

During the 2016 election campaign our current president [#NotMyPresident] stated that, if elected, his administration would cooperate in efforts “to restore and protect the beautiful Everglades.”  During a campaign visit to South Florida he flew over the Everglades; “ let me tell you when you fly over the Everglades and you look at those gators and you look at those water moccasins, you say, I better have a good helicopter.”   Sure, that’s what’s most important.  His well being and not that of the Everglades.  He promised to “help you upgrade water and wastewater — and you know you have a huge problem with wastewater — so that the Florida aquifer is pure and safe from pollution. We have to do it.”  Unfortunately these claims and promises have proven to be typical Trump claptrap.  He has also made it clear he plans to gut the Environmental Protection Agency and scale back environmental regulations which would protect the Everglades.  Florida Senator Bill Nelson points to Trump’s appointments, including Scott Pruitt at EPA.  “You can tell a lot about a fella by the company he keeps and you can tell a lot about a president by the appointment that he makes, and here’s a good example.”  Some battles have been won over the years, but the war to save the Everglades still wages at the state and federal levels.  Marjory Stoneman Douglas’ vision is still alive and cannot be ignored or forgotten. 

Ms. Douglas’ name has become synonymous with environmentalism and efforts to protect Florida’s Everglades.  In May 1998, following her death at age 108, her ashes were scattered over the portion of Everglades National Park that bears her name.  The building in Tallahassee, the state capital, that houses the state Department of Environmental Protection is named in her honor as is a nature center on Key Biscayne, near Miami.  Several parks and schools throughout the state bear her name, including the high school where the recent atrocity took place.  The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School was established in Parkland, east of Pompano Beach, in 1990 to commemorate her centenary.  Ironically, Parkland is a relatively newer community in the ever-expanding urban sprawl fast encroaching on the Everglades from the east. 

Her name has been associated with environmental activism throughout the 20th century and beyond, yet it is now unfortunately married to one of the most deadly school shootings in US history.   The people of Florida have long known the name of Marjory Stoneman Douglas and what it has come to represent. Everyone should know.  If you have never read her book, you should take the time to do so.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Mighty Fine Victuals - In Search of Cracker Cuisine - A Final Dispatch from the Sunshine State

What a shame that our month long mid-winter sojourn in the Sunshine State is quickly coming to an end. The weather has been gorgeous since our arrival as the last winter cold snap was coming to a quick and decisive end here in North Florida; temperatures in the 70s and 80s during the day and down into the mid 60s at night. It has been a time of rest and relaxation . . . time to catch up on my reading and to work on several writing projects, including a few posted here and on my literary blogspot - - over the past weeks. It has also been an opportunity to touch base with friends and family scattered hither and yon across the state. And I always enjoy my explorations of the back roads as evidenced in my previous posting -

My visit has also afforded me the opportunity to enjoy the local swamp/cracker cuisine of North Florida which is abundant and tasty but often difficult to find anywhere else. So one has to take advantage and strike while the iron is hot. Some folks down here don’t like the term "Cracker," considering it pejorative; they equate it with being an ignorant redneck. But nothing is further from the truth; authentic Crackers consider the label a badge of honor. It bonds them to their native earth. My late father-in-law was a Cracker with a capital "C." Born, raised, lived and died here. No finer man breathed air. He had a college degree, was a naval aviator in the Pacific during World War II, rode a horse and ran Florida cattle. He took care of his family and made sure his only daughter married a fine and upstanding Yankee lad. A few hours with him and I sounded like I grew up in a cypress marsh wraslin’ gators. No shame to be a Cracker! Not in my book!

But back to the food . . . to wit, I have sampled some of the freshest and flakiest catfish fillets. Granted, it is an ugly fish to look at and it is a trial to properly clean. I have endured great pain and shed a lot of blood over the years trying. But once cleaned, and properly prepared, a catfish fillet is about as good a piece of fish as you will ever taste. I have also enjoyed a pile of smaller river catfish (served on the bone) on the banks of the St. Johns River, Florida’s longest.

I have enjoyed a basket of tenderly fried conch fritters (sea snails from the Florida Keys), several helpings of succulent gator tail, and who can forget the fall-off-the bone frog legs. These were the real things; caught and served right here in Florida despite the efforts by China and Vietnam to make inroads in the American frog leg market. We have awesome ribbeters right here in Florida and don’t need any imports, thank you.

Once again I was disappointed not to find cooter (soft-shell river turtle) on the menu anywhere. Just hard to come by commercially these days. Still, ain’t no better eatin’ than a heap of local marsh critters.

Add to all of this largesse, side servings of fried green tomatoes and pickles, swamp cabbage, hush puppies, tater tots, and cheese grits (my wife handles those thankfully . . . I’m still a bluebelly by birth), all washed down with a few pints of Stumpknocker lager, and you’ll wonder how the South lost the war.

So today I had one more mission before we set our course for home in Maryland (which has its own fine local cuisine).
Not exactly Cracker cuisine per se, but North Florida offerings just the same and something one must avail one’s self of if ever in the area. I’m referring to the local seafood. To accomplish this goal I drove over to Cedar Key, on the Gulf of Mexico. I have been there several times and fell in love with the ramshackle streets and waterfront that strikes me as a smaller and certainly more sedate version of Key West.

I had one thing on my mind; the sweet-tasting little neck clams from the local aquaculture beds surrounding the island. I could almost taste them on the hour or so drive from Gainesville. Over twenty years ago the State of Florida banned commercial gill netting in state waters effectively putting many coastal fishermen out of business, including many based on and around Cedar Key. To compensate them the state offered training to convert their fishing operation to aquaculture, including the commercial farming of littleneck clams. Over the intervening years Cedar Key has become home to some of the largest producers of farm-raised clams in the United States.

As bent as I was on eating clams, my mind and taste buds suddenly shifted gears as I rolled into town. Succulent stone crab claws are also in season (usually October to May) although they are often hard to find in markets and restaurants even then. And when you do find them, they can be prohibitively expensive. But how often do I come to Florida? Steamed and cracked stone crab claws served with the traditional horseradish mustard, and all washed down with cold beer. Not only is the claw meat exquisite, but only legal size claws are harvested while the crab is returned to the water where they regenerate new (and equally tasty) claws. A truly sustainable seafood industry.

Unfortunately life is full of disappointment. No stone crabs were available during my visit to Cedar Key. But no cause for alarm. There were plenty of Cedar Key clams available and I
was soon belly up to a table in a local clam bar where I enjoyed a large bowl of steamed clams served in garlic and wine while slurping down an icy tray arrayed with the local Pelican Reef (Eastern) oysters on a half shell. They remind me of some of my favorites found in the Damariscotta River, on Mid-Coast Maine. I’ll be back there soon enough.

North Florida offers so much more than plentiful sunshine, a peaceful landscape and stunning scenery. I’ll miss the Cracker cuisine and will look forward to a return in the very near future.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

“Leaving the Highway” - A Dispatch from the Sunshine State

The River Styx - February 2, 2018
Dateline: Gainesville, Florida

Florida has always been a big part of my life having vacationed here with my family when I was young. I spent my undergraduate college years at Florida Southern College, in Lakeland, if for no other reason than I was quickly growing tired of those cold and dreary Midwestern winters. It was in Florida where I met and married my wife of 43 years, a native Florida gal. I still have family and friends here. My father is buried here. And it was here in Gainesville where I began this blog almost a decade ago.

Many of us, including my younger self, think of Florida as a place of sun and fun, a place to escape to when life elsewhere in America has grown old and tiresome. Yet for some of the natives, Florida can become just as old and tiresome . . . just a place to be. My wife has felt this way having grown up here although nostalgia and thoughts of family and friends still here have tempered this a bit over the years. "Florida is a transient state in which too many rootless people dare nothing for the past nor this state’s future," writes Floridian novelist Randy Wayne White in Ten Thousand Island (2000). "Florida is a vacation destination or a retirement place, as temporary as time spent in a bus station . . . Like a bus station, Florida attracts con men and predators. It always has, Florida always will."

I am quite certain this is true. When you get right down to it, Florida is really no different from any other state. There will always be those who sing its praises while others disparage it every chance they get. Florida is certainly not the state I expected to find the first time I visited here in December 1962. There was a lot more to the place than the beaches and palm trees I had seen in photographs and on postcards. I have always enjoyed the beaches, but I am strongly drawn to the less visited hinterlands, especially the inland scrub of central North Florida. Ocala north to the Georgia border, along with the Panhandle, resembles southern Georgia more than it does peninsular Central and South Florida. To quote an old adage: "In Florida, the farther north you go, the farther south you are." And this is truer than one might think for North Florida still retains its strong Southern roots.

For over five decades I have been a regular visitor to Florida - mainly to the Gulf Coast where my family vacationed when I was young and where my parents retired in 1984. There were my three years of college in Lakeland (a year was also spent in Germany), and now there is my in-law’s home in Gainesville, the county seat of Alachua County in central North Florida about an hour and a half southwest of Jacksonville and two hours north of both Orlando and Tampa. For several years now Gainesville has been ranked high on the list of the best places to live in the USA. Driving across town one is struck by the large variety of trees; despite development the city has been careful to preserve its urban forest. I have always felt very much at home here. It feels like home away from home.

Alachua County today is somewhat of an anomaly, tending to be more liberal than the rest of North Florida due in large part to the presence of the University of Florida campus (the fifth largest in the USA in terms of enrollment) and the diversified community that supports it. There are world famous medical facilities. There is a thriving cultural scene in the area with several museums and performing arts venues. Gainesville is the home of the late Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Stephen Stills lived here as a boy, as did Don Felder and Bernie Leadon of The Eagles. They, along with Petty, all attended Gainesville High School. And one cannot overlook sports (GO GATORS!!) The University is by far the largest employer in the area and locals wear the Orange and Blue everywhere you go.

That said, Alachua County was not always this forward thinking. According to the county’s Historical Commission it was the site of at least 21 documented lynchings of African Americans between 1877 and 1950, including at least ten in Newberry, just a few miles west of Gainesville. In 2017, Alachua County announced plans to place markers at the sites of every extra-judicial killing in the county along with a memorial plaque in Gainesville listing all of the victims. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center there are still several Ku Klux Klan entities, as well as other white supremacist and separatist organizations, operating throughout Florida. How can we overlook the fact that a self-proclaimed white supremacist murdered 17 high school students and faculty in South Florida just a week ago? So Randy Wayne White was perhaps not too far off the mark with his views on modern Florida. It is still a very edgy state in so many ways, especially when one ventures into the rural interior.

I choose, however, not to dwell on all of this, but to celebrate
this inland North Florida scrub land I have come to love over the years. This brings me back to my own "small place of enchantment" as Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings (1896-1953) called rural Alachua County southeast of Gainesville. Rawlings, a 20th century American author, moved south to Florida in 1928 and purchased a 70-acre farm and orange grove in Cross Creek where she lived until her death in 1953. There she wrote novels set in the Florida scrub, the most famous of these being The Yearling which was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, in 1939.

It is to this little corner of Alachua County that I return to every time I come to Florida. A visit would not be complete without a trip to Cross Creek and the Florida scrub, roaming the back roads over by Cross Creek, Micanopy, Island Pond, and Hawthorne. The narrow country roads pass under canopies of live oak festooned with long gray beards of Spanish moss. This year, in the wake of last autumn’s Hurricane Irma and its torrential rainfalls, there is plenty of water in Cross Creek, connecting Orange and Lochloosa lakes, and in the River Styx which is only a few miles long and more a swampy creek than a formidable river. It connects Newnan's Lake with Orange Lake. This is not always the case and I have visited this area there was no water in them or in the lakes they connect. But this year there are white herons and egrets wading the sedgy sloughs looking for their next meal. An alligator was resting on the bank as if he had not a care in the world. This entire area is a high-quality bald cypress swamp forest surrounded by Southeastern conifer, sand pine scrub, saw and scrub palmetto and swamp tupelo . . . part of the extensive Ocala National Forest, the southernmost in the USA and one of the largest east of the Mississippi.

Again, I am reminded why I like to come back to this special part of Florida. Perhaps Miss Rawlings said it best when surveying her home and farm at Cross Creek. "It is necessary to leave the impersonal highway, to step inside the rusty gate and close it behind. One is now inside the orange grove, out of one world and in the mysterious heart of another. And after long years of spiritual homelessness, of nostalgia, here is that mystic loveliness of childhood again. Here is home."

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Called By No Name Except Deportees

The crops are all in and the peaches are rott'ning,
The oranges piled in their creosote dumps;
They're flying 'em back to the Mexican border
To pay all their money to wade back again

Goodbye to my Juan, goodbye, Rosalita,
Adios mis amigos, Jesus y Maria;
You won't have your names when you ride the big airplane,
All they will call you will be "deportees"

My father's own father, he waded that river,
They took all the money he made in his life;
My brothers and sisters come working the fruit trees,
And they rode the truck till they took down and died.

Some of us are illegal, and some are not wanted,
Our work contract's out and we have to move on;
Six hundred miles to that Mexican border,
They chase us like outlaws, like rustlers, like thieves.

We died in your hills, we died in your deserts,
We died in your valleys and died on your plains.
We died 'neath your trees and we died in your bushes,
Both sides of the river, we died just the same.

The sky plane caught fire over Los Gatos Canyon,
A fireball of lightning, and shook all our hills,
Who are all these friends, all scattered like dry leaves?
The radio says, "They are just deportees"

Is this the best way we can grow our big orchards?
Is this the best way we can grow our good fruit?
To fall like dry leaves to rot on my topsoil
And be called by no name except "deportees"?

                                             – Woody Guthrie

Seventy years ago, on a winter morning in late January 1948, a DC-3 aircraft chartered by the former US Immigration and Naturalization Service [INS] departed an airport in Oakland, California bound for El Centro, just a few miles north of the US-Mexican border after a brief refueling stop in Burbank, the plane’s home near Los Angeles. On board was a three-person flight crew and an INS agent. Some of the remaining 28 passengers were bracero guest workers returning to Mexico at the end of their contract in the fruit groves. Some were undocumented aliens being deported by INS.

Some of us are illegal, and some are not wanted,
Our work contract's out and we have to move on;
Six hundred miles to that Mexican border,
They chase us like outlaws, like rustlers, like thieves.

Approximately 150 miles south of Oakland a fire broke out in one of the plane’s two engines. As the fire spread one of the wings sheared off and the aircraft spiraled into Los Gatos Canyon some 20 miles from Coalinga near Fresno, crashing in a massive fireball. Despite attempted rescue efforts, everyone on board was killed instantly.

We died in your hills, we died in your deserts,
We died in your valleys and died on your plains.
We died 'neath your trees and we died in your bushes,
Both sides of the river, we died just the same.

Media reports at the time would identify the flight crew and the INS agent and their bodies were eventually returned to

their families for burial. The remaining victims were identified only as "deportees." Not all of them were. In fact, one of the victims was born in Spain and was not a deportee or a Mexican national. Nevertheless, he was buried anonymously with the others in a mass grave on the fringes of a cemetery in Fresno. "Here lies 28 Mexican nationals."

This incident would have passed into a distant and soon forgotten memory had it not been for Woody Guthrie who penned the above poem – "Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos") – to retell the story of the crash and the sad fate of the mostly anonymous victims who died violently and were buried without their names. Very few of their families ever learned what happened to their loved ones until much later. Guthrie’s poem condemned the treatment of those who came to this country to help harvest our crops.

They're flying 'em back to the Mexican border
To pay all their money to wade back again

The poem was eventually set to music by Martin Hoffmann, and Guthrie’s friend Pete Seeger began performing it at concerts. Over the past seven decades it has been covered by numerous and varied musical artists, including this beautiful cover by Woody’s son Arlo:

In the years since this song was written the plight of the Mexican field workers has improved only slightly. Those who have remained in this country to work the fields live mostly in poverty. Those who are here illegally always live with the threat of deportation. And still they come to America to what they hope will be a better life for them and their families. They do work many Americans feel is beneath them. Today there is a border wall and our current so-called leaders want to build a bigger and better one. In Woody Guthrie’s time the Mexican workers were treated "like outlaws, like rustlers, like thieves." Our current president added "rapists" and believes America can only be great again if this country rids itself of undesirable foreigners, be they Mexicans . . . or Muslims . . . and whoever he decides to add to the list. To him they are not immigrants yearning to be free. They are not field workers, students, teachers, doctors, lawyers, inventors, veterans who served this country in combat . . . this list goes on. Dreamers all.

You won't have your names when you ride the big airplane,
All they will call you will be "deportees"

Friday, February 9, 2018

Corporal Harry E. Kirby - A Brother in Arms

I wrote briefly about my father’s wartime service shortly after his death, in October 2009. He had served in the104th Infantry Regiment, 26th Infantry (Yankee) Division in General George Patton’s Third Army during the northern European campaign, in 1944-1945.

In the spring of 2011, I visited his grave at the Florida National Cemetery in Bushnell for the first time since his memorial service there the previous spring. It was my first opportunity to see the inscription on the marble tablet marking the niche containing his ashes. It was then and there that I learned for the first time, and much to my complete surprise, that my father had received the Bronze Star, the fourth highest decoration awarded for distinguished, heroic or meritorious achievement or service in combat. He really was a hero even if not many people knew it.

A few days later my wife and I visited with one of the last surviving members of Dad’s unit. I first learned about Harry Kirby a few years before when I was doing some online research on the Ardennes region of eastern Belgium and Luxembourg. I came across a photo essay on the area by a veteran of the Battle of the Bulge who had returned to visit the places he knew from the war. Many of the places and events he described seemed very similar to the ones Dad had told me about when I was a kid. I called Dad up and asked him whether he knew the guy who had posted the photos. "Why sure," he said. "Harry was one of my closest buddies during the war." They had not seen each other since the early days of 1945, in the immediate wake of the battle, and, as it turned out, they lived only a few miles apart in Florida.

Dad gave Harry a call and over the next few months they renewed their old friendship. Harry and I also exchanged 

Ralph C. Rogers (1924-2009) & Harry E. Kirby (1924-2017)
Florida 2008
occasional notes and we planned to meet one day when my travels took me again to Florida. I regret that I was not able to meet with Harry while Dad was still alive, but over our lunch with Harry and his wife Jean in their lovely home near Ocala, I told Harry what I knew of Dad’s wartime exploits and he was able to fill me in on many more details. He answered a lot of questions I had about that chapter of my Dad’s life, including how and under what circumstances he received the Bronze Star. It turns out he and Dad were together during the days leading up to and during the Battle of the Bulge. Harry won the Bronze Star the same time as Dad.

The above sketch of then Private First Class Harry Kirby was made at Esch-sur-Süre, Luxembourg in December 1945, at the height of the American counter-offensive during the Battle of the Bulge, the largest land battle ever conducted by the US Army. Harry and my father were pinned down there at Christmas, and Dad told many stories about this. Harry provided more details about the battle, and his subsequent visits to the area after the war, and he was tickled to learn that I had also visited the area, including Esch-sur-Sûre during Christmas 1971, when I was a university student in Germany, and had searched out many of the landmarks Dad had told me about.

I would have more questions and Harry and I continued to exchange notes; not only about the war and his friendship with Dad, but also about his growing up in Maryland and his years sailing the Chesapeake Bay. We both studied at the University of Maryland and he also shared several memories of life on campus. Having resided in Maryland for over 40 years, I was always interested to receive his stories and anecdotes. I also enjoyed other stories about his postwar years that took him to Chicago, my hometown, and his career with Sears. He laughed when I told him Dad retired from JC Penney’s corporate headquarters. They fought together, and Harry was willing to forgive this one lapse in judgement on my Dad’s part. And I always wished Harry a Happy Birthday on February 3. I was getting ready to do so again this year - he would turn 94 - when I learned that Harry passed away last summer, on July 29. As he was the last surviving member of my Dad’s immediate wartime unit, and the only one I was lucky enough to meet, I think it only proper that I pay tribute to his service and his memory.

Harry Elmer Kirby was born February 3, 1924 in Baltimore, Maryland. Prior to the war he studied at the Baltimore Business College, the University of Maryland, and after entering military service, at the Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP), at the University of Maine (where he first met my father). The ASTP was designed to single out specially qualified soldiers for their exceptional IQs and send them to various college campuses around the United States to learn special war skills. Some were also enrolled in Officers Candidate School (OCS) to be trained for a specialized officers corps to serve as Army engineers as the war expanded in the European Theater. The war had not yet begun in earnest for these young men, but they all knew their time would come. They were "soldiers first, students second." Unfortunately, it would not last.

In February 1944, many of the soldiers enrolled in the basic part of the program, including my father and Harry, were called to active combat duty. Casualties were mounting rapidly in Europe and they did not realize the Sword of Valor on their ASTP shoulder patch would come so quickly. The Army decided its need for infantry replacements was more pressing than the need for technical specialties. My father and Harry traveled by train to Tennessee to join the 104th Infantry Regiment, 26th Infantry "Yankee" Division, in the US Second Army’s spring maneuvers. They were needed to bring the division up to strength before it was shipped to France in the wake of the D-Day invasion where it would join the US Third Army under General George Patton. Originally consisting of personnel from the Massachusetts National Guard, the division was no longer the special pride of New England as its ranks swelled with men from all over the United States. The ASTP soldiers would serve in the front ranks as combat infantry riflemen and knew from the beginning that their future looked grim. Many who went would never come home again.

Harry and Dad served their country proudly in France,
Ralph Rogers (far left) and Harry Kirby (second from right with pipe)
Northern France 1944
Belgium, Luxembourg, and Germany and both were awarded the Bronze Star, the Combat Infantry Badge, Good Conduct Medal, World War II Victory Medal, and the American Campaign and European Theater Ribbons with three Battle Stars – Northern France, the Ardennes (Battle of the Bulge) and the Rhineland – as well as the Croix de Guerre awarded by the Government of France. And thankfully, they were both able to return to their families and to build new ones of their own.

After the war, Harry continued his studies at the Baltimore College of Commerce for three years. He worked in the tire and rubber industry, first with Firestone in Baltimore, and then at Sears' Chicago headquarters as an Assistant National Sales Manager, and later as National Marketing Manager for commercial tires and batteries, a position he held until his retirement. He then accepted a position
as Vice President for Sales and Marketing at TTS Corporation, in Chelsea, Massachusetts before establishing his own consulting business in North Carolina. He finally retired to Ocala, Florida.

Harry and his wife Jean made five trips back to Europe after the war, especially to Luxembourg to visit memorials to Americans who fought in the Battle of the Bulge, including the Hamm Military Cemetery where many from his and Dad’s 26th Infantry Division are buried. Harry was a member of the Yankee Division Association, the Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, and the American Legion. He frequently spoke at local schools and to other groups about this wartime service.

Harry is survived by his wife of 72 years, five children, six grandchildren, and two great granddaughters. He was buried at the Florida National Cemetery with full military honors on August 15, 2017. I visited Dad and Harry a few days ago. Brothers in arms during World War II, Florida retirees in later life, they rest together in this sacred and hallowed ground. They have joined their other buddies from their unit. They are all gone now. Gone, but never forgotten. They all traveled many miles in peril and in peace. They sacrificed for the living and the yet unborn. This was the promise they were sworn to keep. Now they rest in peace and deserve their sleep.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Speak Out Against Fascism!

Writers and artists fled Nazi Germany in the 1930s because they believed that art cannot flourish in a reactionary environment.  Ernest Hemingway, speaking in New York City in 1937, said, "There is only one form of government that cannot produce good writing, and that system is fascism." American writers and artists today should use their talents to stem the tide of reactionary nationalism and populism taking root in this country, even at the highest levels of government. It is how we keep creative thought alive in this country. The alternative is unacceptable. RESIST!!