History-making music group for UMM - morris mn

History-making music group for UMM - morris mn
The UMM men's chorus opened the Minnesota Day program at the 1962 Seattle World's Fair (Century 21 Exposition).

Friday, December 27, 2013

Survivor of flaming aircraft: Bennie Hill of World War II

What Bennie Hill heroically flew in WWII: the B-24 "Liberator."
I remember Bennie Hill when he worked at the Morris Post Office. Hear the name and you're reminded of the British comedian who spelled his first name "Benny."
I can relate to having a celebrity name. For most of my life I did not, but then Brian Williams the anchorman came along. I get occasional teasing. Network anchorpeople aren't the celebrities they once were. The media have fragmented in countless ways. Come to think of it, I haven't been teased about my "celebrity name" for some time.
The late Bennie Hill of Morris had a World War II background that was amazing. He could feel very thankful to be alive to have raised a large and robust family. I'm close in age to more than one of his children. I read that he didn't come forward and talk about his war experiences much. This was a common trait for people who had been exposed to the horrors of war.
The Greatest Generation had to roll up its sleeves to take care of some very unpleasant business. The Nazis asserted themselves like the devil himself across Europe. The Japanese were a horrible specter with their expansion in the Pacific. What was it that possessed mankind in the 1940s, that so much violent conflict came forth? The Allies asserted violence for good. But why was it necessary? Could it happen again?
I remember when Bennie Hill passed away in 1982. His family came to the Morris Sun Tribune office and I hadn't yet heard about his passing. The trials of his mortal life were going to be behind him. My own father Ralph E. Williams said goodbye to those worldly trials in February. My father served Uncle Sam in the Pacific Theater.
Bennie Hill went to work over France, working to eradicate the Nazi menace. He flew a B-24 Liberator bomber. What an aircraft that was! A heavy bomber designed by Consolidated Aircraft of San Diego CA, it had a more modern design than the Boeing B-17 "flying fortress." It had a higher top speed, greater range and heavier bomb load.
However, we learn that it was more difficult to fly, as it had heavy control forces and poor formation-flying characteristics.
 
From Morris to Oklahoma, then Wyoming
Bennie was a skilled pilot whose instruction began at the Morris Aviation School. He completed his advanced training in February of 1943 at Altus OK. He received his commission on December 5, 1943, and was sent to Casper WY where he received his training as co-pilot of that Liberator bomber. It was state of the art weaponry but it had those limitations. Skilled hands would be required at the controls. Bennie surely had the background and the resolve.
 
Finally to England, and then. . .
He arrived in England on May 3 of 1944. The fateful day arrived for all these gallant young men to be sent out on a trying mission. Uncle Sam gave a thumbs-up. Uncle Sam gave his blessing for Bennie and his fellow aviators to take off toward Tours, France, on June 17. The objective there would be to attack the airfield at Guyancourt, a city on the Loire River.
France was a hell hole in the tug-of-war between Nazi occupiers and the "good guys" of the Allies. Watching the movie "The Longest Day," you might think that once the beaches of Normandy were taken, the main obstacle was surmounted. Seeing Robert Mitchum smell his cigar at movie's end, you get a feeling of triumph and resolution. If only that were true. The campaign to move into France was grudging and took a heavy toll.
Hill ascended skyward in his B-24 Liberator, going out over the channel at Beachy Head and then south over Normandy. As so often happens in war, tactics as they are originally drawn up are disrupted. Accident and chaos can take over. I once read that generals who write books about war aren't to be wholly trusted, because they make battles seem more organized than they were!
The lead navigator for Hill's squadron wasn't precise and the result was being over the city of Caen. Nazi Panzer units were on the prowl in this much-contested city in the European theater.
Nazi commanders in the movies seem always to be pleading for reinforcements in the form of Panzer units. It's easy to see why. They were lethal. The Panzers opened fire on Hill and his fellow fliers. Hill's plane could not escape the barrage. An attempt was made to turn back to England. Hill's plane had received too much damage. It became engulfed in flames.
A further study of the B-24 shows how it was susceptible to battle damage and to fire in particular. The placement of the fuel tanks throughout the upper fuselage, and the plane's lightweight construction (for increased range and to optimize assembly line construction) made the craft vulnerable.
We learn that the B-24 was notorious among U.S. aircraft for its tendency to catch fire. Also, its "Davis wing" meant it was dangerous to ditch or to belly-land, because the fuselage tended to break apart.
Hill's airplane burst into flames. It seemed "a giant blinding flash of fire," according to an account that appeared in a book put out by the Stevens County Historical Society. The whole tail section fell off. A nearby flyer who shared an account said that only one parachute came from this hellish situation. What remained of the plane fell spinning into the countryside of France.
 
Cascading to the ground, hurt, but alive 
That lone parachute was that of Bennie Hill, survivor. The parachute had caught fire. He landed on the ground with a horrible toll from the fire, his hands melted together and his eyes melted shut.
"He may have been burned badly, but at least he was alive," wrote his son Brad in that Historical Society book. The book's title is "The '40s, a time for war and a time for peace." Brad reported that the rest of Hill's crew had been killed.
"After being found on the ground, he became a German war prisoner for the next six weeks, until he was rescued," Brad wrote. "On October 4, 1944, he left England and was back in the United States on October 10."
The road to recovery was arduous for Hill. He spent much time in hospitals going through extensive therapy and skin grafts. He was able to resume a normal life. We were blessed having the large Hill family in Morris. There were ten boys, one of whom passed away a few days after birth.
Hill may have suffered because of the minuses associated with the B-24 Liberator, but the pluses could be most awesome to offset that. That's why it was sent airborne toward the Nazis. The aircraft provided excellent service in a variety of roles, due to its large payload and long range. It was the only bomber to deploy our first forerunner to precision-guided munitions in war: the 1,000-pound "Azon" guided bomb.
Bennie Hill's skilled aviator hands used this power for good. By 1945 the Nazis were crushed.
 
City of Caen, in thick of the war
Bennie Hill flew his B-24 over Caen, France, in June of 1944, the first month of the fierce campaign for that city. The campaign lasted three months and had the British and Canadians mainly involved. The battle for Caen was part of the battle for Normandy.
Actor Mitchum (in "The Longest Day") may have smelled that cigar with such a sense of calm triumph, but the beach landing would really prove to be a prelude. Meanwhile the Russians were moving from the east. The Germans were far more scared of being taking by the Russians than the Americans.
Caen was one of the largest cities in Normandy. It was deemed a vital objective by the Allies. It was a road hub, so in German hands it could enable the enemy to shift forces rapidly. The city lay astride the Orne River and Caen Canal. The area was valued for airfield construction.
The Germans prioritized the occupation of Caen. They applied potent armor reserves. But with so many German divisions held up defending Caen, U.S. forces were eventually able to break through to the south and east, threatening to encircle the German forces in Normandy from behind.
Caen was a historic city with many buildings dating back to the Middle Ages. The Allies had to bomb relentlessly and this took a toll on the grand old city. Little of the pre-war city remains today.
On D-Day, Caen was an objective for the British Third Infantry Division. The Allies could not take Caen as planned. Paratroopers managed to establish a bridgehead north of the city, on the east bank of the Orne. The Germans' 21st Panzer Division was a stubborn roadblock. Those Panzers! Robert Vaughn pleaded for relief from Panzers in the movie "The Bridge at Remagen." They did not arrive.
Near Caen the 21st Panzer Division launched a counterattack that blocked the road to Caen. General Montgomery decided on a new plan for the Second Army: Caen would be taken by a pincer movement. But the Allies got bogged down in the "bocage" country (hedgerows). Those Panzers loomed. A storm on the English channel disrupted the beach supply, setting back efforts more. Poor weather delayed bombing that was to precede a new attack. The Germans threw in their last reserves.
General Montgomery, who you might remember from the movie "Patton" as Patton's big rival, decided on a frontal assault. The Germans finally crumbled under the Allies' persistence. The campaign captured vital new ground and it tied down four German corps, at the time when U.S. forces were about to launch Operation Cobra.
Important strategic aims were achieved, even if from a tactical standpoint, the campaign couldn't be judged wholly a success. In the end it was the British and Canadians taking Caen.
The city's population before the conflict was 60,000. And after: 17,000. About 35,000 were left homeless after the Allied bombing. The city was re-built from 1948 to 1962.
Bennie Hill flew directly over the city while war raged. He wasn't British or Canadian but he was surely kindred in the cause, a cause destined for triumph after all the tragedy and sacrifice.
Why? Why did the Germans behave as they did in the 1940s? Why was it necessary for Hill's life to be disrupted? And for my father Ralph's life to be disrupted? We remember on Memorial Day. But is it enough? Can the speeches genuinely remind us of the extent of sacrifice made by the young men of America in the 1940s? Must we worry about such a conflagration happening again?
The future is impossible to predict. But we can be aware and vigilant, hearing the story of the late Bennie Hill and his aviation talents employed on behalf of the Allied cause. God bless the memory of all this.
I can visualize Mr. Hill like it was just yesterday - his affable presence at the front counter of the Morris Post Office. "Make sure to cover 'B' team wrestling," he said to me one day. What a trivial matter compared to all he had seen and experienced! But his family was his focus for his present. These veterans indeed "moved on," to the extent Bennie didn't wish to discuss much his wartime experiences. I failed to get Willie Polk to go "on the record" about what he saw at Pearl Harbor. It's all so understandable.
The WWII veterans of Stevens County were once all around us in our daily lives. They have faded from that due to the passage of time. It's important we never forget.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Monday, December 23, 2013

Christmas and its music lift spirits in face of our loss

A favorite photo: Ralph E. Williams and "Sandy" by our flowers.
My father Ralph and "Sandy" will be alive only in our memories for Christmas of 2013, for the first time. It will be a transition. God wants us to feel joy regardless of the tragedies that may have befallen us. 
My eighth grade math teacher, Ralph Krenz, passed away earlier this month. We remember these departed people as the holiday spirit envelops us. Christmas is a time for realizing our blessings and re-affirming our faith.
 
"All the tinsel's up around the tree." That's the first line of a Christmas song I wrote once. Christmas music weaves a backdrop for the holiday feeling of good cheer.
I was delighted to attend the University Choir concert on December 13. Melissa Hanson conducted and Therese Sutula was accompanist. It began with "Noel," but I felt the highlight was "Hope for Resolution" at the end. The "Hope" song was a gesture of tribute to the recently-deceased Nelson Mandela. The audience joined in for a portion. From the Zulu text: "Nation, do not cry. Jehovah will protect us. We will attain freedom. Jehovah will protect us."
It was very moving, the kind of feeling that couldn't promote Christmas any better. Sometimes the sources of joy around Christmas come from unexpected places, like from a song we've never heard before.
The second line of my own Christmas song is: "Look around and you'll know it's Christmastime." That's the title of the song. Usually the song title comes from the chorus. My title is repeated in the second line of each verse. A songwriter, as he prepares his "lead sheet" will type the song title (in the lyrics) in all caps. We don't use any punctuation. Punctuation means nothing to the singer. Outside of the song title we usually don't bother with capital letters either.
  
there's a steaming pot of oyster stew
LOOK AROUND AND YOU'LL KNOW IT'S CHRISTMASTIME
 
You can tell a song written by Neil Diamond because it starts out with the song title. "Love on the Rocks. . ."
 
More wonderful music
I attended the holiday band concert on December 16 at Morris Area High School. It started out with Jazz I which showed that jazz can be fully consistent with Christmas. More and more there are jazz band arrangements that are penned for Christmas, like the songs from "A Charlie Brown Christmas."
Wanda Dagen directed the concert. The musicians seemed a little too spread out on the stage for the Jazz I portion. The rhythm section was way off to one side. Know-it-all me will say the band had some trouble achieving cohesion, given this arrangement. But the director was probably dealing with logistics.
These tunes were delightful: "Linus and Lucy" and "Christmas Time is Here."
The seventh and eighth grade band took the stage next. It began with "Variants on an English Carol" and closed with "A Rockin' Christmas." Which reminds me: Why does "Jingle Bell Rock" continue as such a Christmas standard? It must connect with people. It's amazingly rare for a new Christmas song to break through. I personally would like to see "Jingle Bell Rock" give way to something a little more fresh. The public decides.
The Morris Area concert band played "The Christmas Suite" written by Harold Walters. This was followed by "Jingle Bells," "Of Festive Bells and Ancient Kings," and "O Come, O Come Emmanuel."
We were reminded of the Boston Pops when the MAHS wind ensemble performed "Sleigh Ride." This piece concluded with the trademark "horse whinny" at the end, performed by a trumpet player doing something we call "half-valving." Yes, I'm a trumpet player from way back.
It's logical that I might dabble in songwriting. My father Ralph who passed away in February was a prolific professional creator of music. He has a brochure that lists most of his compositions. If he has a "greatest hit" it would probably be "Born to be Free." Much of his work was sacred. Church choirs around the USA continue to perform his music. This is confirmed when I occasionally do an Internet search. It might be in Battle Creek MI or Allentown PA. The sounds as created by my father at the piano keyboard stay vibrant. What I do as a songwriter is barely a shadow.
Here's the chorus of my Christmas song: "Say Merry Christmas to all that you know, for it's the grandest time of year. And in the eyes of the little ones it shimmers crystal clear. Say Merry Christmas, it softens the heart and makes the soul stand proud and tall. So say it loud, say it all around and have the greatest Christmas of all."
Our family will not be able to have "the greatest Christmas of all." Death has taken two of our members. My father died in February and our dog "Sandy" left us in June.
We no longer celebrate Christmas with gifts. There's no point. We in fact are trying to "de-clutter."
When I was a kid we celebrated Christmas in all the traditional ways. One of the traditions my father started was to wrap up a 12-pack of soft drink, which we always recognized under the tree. Today the highlight of our Christmas is to go to church on Christmas Eve. There are two of us now, my mom and I. We also dine at the church on Christmas Day.
For most of my life our family celebrated Christmas Day with my uncle Howard and wife Vi from Glenwood. Howard and Vi are deceased. We all make adjustments as one generation slowly gives way to the next.
We remember Christmastimes of years past, envisioning all the trappings and personalities as if it were just yesterday. It lives only in our memory now. Thus is inspired the Christmas lyric: "I'll be home for Christmas if only in my dreams." That song is a deserved Christmas classic. I should be so fortunate as to write one.
In my Christmas "dream," I pull into our driveway in the Morris Sun Tribune van, nearly done with my Wednesday evening newspaper distribution duties, ready for a short break at home, as "Sandy" barks furiously at our front picture window, and Dad looks at me from his recliner chair.
Thanks to the University of Minnesota-Morris and Morris Area High music departments for their delightful holiday-themed concerts. Christmas Eve is tomorrow (Tuesday) as I post this. Merry Christmas to all.
"Jehovah will protect us."
  
The full lyrics to my Christmas song are in a post I wrote four years ago, a post titled "With apologies to Bernie." "Bernie" is Bernard Goldberg. Here is the permalink, and thanks for reading. - B.W.
 
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Friday, December 20, 2013

MACA boys succumb to Vraa, New London-Spicer

Jordan Arbach passes the ball in the 12/14 home game.
NL-Spicer 68, Tigers 50
This season of learning and developing for the MACA boys had another bump in the road Tuesday (12/17). The site was New London. There, the Tigers got schooled by Ryan Vraa and his New London-Spicer mates.
Vraa was precise shooting from beyond the three-point stripe. He made six of eight 3-point shots as New London-Spicer worked to a 68-50 win. MACA is still in search of win No. 1. The Wildcats came out of Tuesday at 4-0.
Andrew Goulet shoots from close-in vs. Ortonville.
Vraa poured in 24 points total. Shane Zylstra contributed 18 for the winner. Adam Essler and Brett Olson each made a '3' to complement Vraa's six long-rangers. Olson snared nine rebounds. Vraa led NL-Spicer in assists with five and in steals with five. Tyson Gislason and Zylstra each blocked two shots.
The Tigers were still in the game at halftime, down 33-27.
Eric Staebler showed lots of offensive punch for coach Mark Torgerson's Tigers. Eric made two 3-pointers and finished with a hefty harvest of points: 27. He was the lone double figures scorer for Morris Area Chokio Alberta. The Tigers made 20 of 44 shots from the field and were three of ten in 3's.
C.J. Nagel popped one 3-point shot. In freethrows the Tigers were seven of ten. Staebler led in rebounds with eight followed by Nagel with seven. Noah Grove dished out three assists, and Andrew Goulet had three steals.
The game began with NL-Spicer looking as though they might bury the Tigers. The score at one point was 20-6. But the margin got shaved down for halftime, before NL-Spicer showed another burst. NL-Spicer outscored the Tigers 35-23 in the second half, and never led by less than double figures in the second half.
Staebler's 27 points on the scoring list was followed by Grove with seven, Nagel with six, Bryce Jergenson and Goulet with four each, and Jordan Arbach with two.
The Tigers are done with the pre-Christmas part of the schedule. They'll resume play two days after Santa visits, on Dec. 27, when they'll vie in the two-day St. John's Invitational.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

"I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day" & Dan Oxley

Dan Oxley, trumpet player of note
What is your favorite Christmas song? We are taught some of these songs when we are toddlers.
We as a society stick with the old, established songs - what I would call "turnips." In this age when creative people can use technology to get their material "out there," we still seem to want to stick with the traditional stuff. When was the last time a new Christmas song "broke through?" Was it "All I Want for Christmas is You?" Wasn't that a couple decades ago? And even this song is somewhat derived, at least in terms of the title, from "All I Want for Christmas is my Two Front Teeth."
I decided on a favorite many years ago: "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day." I came to embrace this song from an instrumental version. Dan Oxley, trumpet player, had "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day" as part of a Christmas medley. The whole medley was outstanding.
When Oxley and his musicians broke into "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day," it evoked such a peaceful image. A timeless image. And this was accomplished even without the lyrics being heard. I find the lyrics striking too, and for this we have Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, the poet, to thank. He wrote the words before a melody was ever composed. The lyrics and music blend so perfectly, it's surprising they were composed separately.
Oxley is what's known as a high-register trumpet player. You might think this isn't your cup of tea, as such brass playing can have a harsh quality (at least in the perception of non-brass players). I assure you Mr. Oxley is tasteful. He is selective on where he plays the high stuff, and his intonation is precise.
The Christmas medley of which I'm speaking starts with "What Child is This?" Oxley follows with "Go Tell It on the Mountain," and then we hear "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day." One song is left: "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing."
This medley is on a custom CD made by Del Sarlette of Sarlettes Music in Morris. It's a collection of recordings made by upper-register specialists of the trumpet. You can tell if someone is not a fan of this style, if that person uses the term "screech" trumpet. A fair percentage of the population falls into that category, and I feel no resentment. To each their own.
I have heard Morris Area music director Wanda Dagen say "screech trumpet" and that's fine. No self-respecting music director would want any of her trumpet players trying to play like that. My high school band director, John Woell, had no aversion to exposing his trumpet players to such renderings. Frankly, I think men are much more disposed to liking "scream" trumpet than women.
The older I get, the more I appreciate the skeptics on this. A part of me for sentimental reasons still likes to listen to some of this stuff. Dan Oxley's Christmas renderings - there are several - stand out. Sarlette's collection starts out with Oxley's interpretation of "Deck the Halls." Del titled the CD "Have Yourself a Screamin' Little Christmas." Oxley also presents "O Little Town of Bethlehem," "Sleigh Ride," "Carol of the Bells," "O Holy Night" and "We Three Kings."
 
A spiritual dedication
Oxley was born in Japan to missionary parents. He discovered the trumpet when age eight.
He came to the U.S. to complete his high school education, his diploma coming from Wheaton Central High School in the Chicago IL area. He kept progressing on trumpet, playing in Jerry Franks' "Dimensions in Brass" in the 1970s. He joined the Christian group "Truth" in 1978. He met his wife-to-be, singer Donna Carter, with "Truth." You can't beat finding the "truth," eh? He and Donna settled in Los Angeles in 1980. They both finished college there. They lived in L.A. for ten years and then moved to Nashville TN.
Dan tours a lot to share his music and spiritual message. It would be neat having him come to Morris. How about at the Hosanna church? He visits festivals, conventions and colleges in addition to churches. He goes abroad sometimes.
Growing up in Japan, he learned how few Christians live there. This he cites as a reason for being so evangelical. I would suggest his missionary parents too.
It's neat how an instrument, as opposed to the human voice, can be a vehicle for promoting the Christian message. In 1996, Dan was the rare exception of being allowed into North Korea to perform. There he performed in the International Spring Arts Festival. I'd be pretty cautious about going to North Korea, no matter how innocent I was.
Oxley is associated with the trumpet but he has tinkered with this instrument. He's actually a specialist on what's called the "EVI," an electronic valved wind-controlled "midi" instrument. I read that "few musicians have mastered the EVI." Don't ask me to explain it further. On the recordings he simply sounds like he's playing trumpet.
Dan is a studio musician and producer and has an in-home studio. He has backed up artists in both secular and Christian music.
I'm sure Del Sarlette would be happy to make a copy of his custom Christmas music ("scream trumpet") CD. You can hear Maynard Ferguson's "Christmas for Moderns Medley." You might know that Maynard was a "scream" artist of special renown. He and his band came to the University of Minnesota-Morris twice.
Phil Driscoll has done some very tasteful Christmas arrangements, showcasing brass. So have Doc Severinsen, Jim Manley and Vaughn Nark. Del places a "warning" at the bottom of the CD back: "This disc contains some vocals!"
 
"I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day"
Civil War history is an area of special interest for me. I have written three blog posts inspired by the Sam Smith "running rifleman" statue of Summit Cemetery here in Morris. I'm especially proud of the third of these posts: a comprehensive story of Smith's life.
Turns out, "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day" grew out of the horrible U.S. Civil War. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote the poem in 1863. He gave it the name "Christmas Bells." The Civil War had tragedy for the famed American poet. His oldest son Charles Appleton Longfellow joined Union forces without his father's blessing. Charles got an appointment as lieutenant. He was severely wounded in November of 1863 in the battle of New Hope Church in Virginia, during the Mine Run campaign.
Adding to the tragedy was the death of the poet's wife Frances from an accidental fire. The poet wrote "Christmas Bells" out of the despair he felt. It wouldn't be a classic Christmas song or carol if it was all despair, no inspiration. The carol concludes with the bells carrying renewed hope for peace among mankind.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote the poem on Christmas Day, 1863. It was first published in February of 1865 in the juvenile magazine "Our Young Folks."
 
Getting music established w/ poem
The poem was not set to music until 1872. John Baptiste Calkin used the poem in a processional accompanied by a melody he previously used, going back to 1848. (I'm surprised that a poem and melody written separate from each other could be coupled like this. Maybe I'm not getting the whole story.)
Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash recorded this version of "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day." But we learn the poem has been set to more than one melody. A less common version has the poem set to "Mainzer" which was written in 1845. Is "Mainzer" derived from "manger?" No, the melody was written by Joseph Mainzer.
But wait, there are other versions, still, including one written in 2011 by the British pianist Jack Gibbons.
Johnny Marks of "Rudolph and Red-Nosed Reindeer" fame was captivated by the poem, and he set it to music in the 1950s. It is Marks' version or interpretation that we hear most often today.
Remember Ed Ames? He's among the star-filled roster to have recorded the song. Ames came up in entertainment ranks as a singer, but that changed pretty decisively when he was enlisted as an actor. He played the Indian in the "Daniel Boone" TV series, remember? But his biggest step into fame might have been when he guested on Johnny Carson's "Tonight Show" and threw that axe. I have always wondered how spontaneous that really was. Without the "accident" I don't see how entertaining this would have been. (For those unaware, the axe struck the genital area on the drawing. Carson was ready with a "zinger.")
Kate Smith recorded "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day." So did Harry Belafonte, Bing Crosby and The Carpenters. Why did Karen Carpenter have to leave us when she did? She had an eating disorder. She was probably deathly afraid of putting on weight in those days when an "attractive" female had to fit a certain profile. No one would care all that much today. We'd love to hear Karen Carpenter sing "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day" today.
 
Sci-fi writer enthralled by song
Ray Bradbury loved this Christmas song. He worked it into his novel writing, specifically his 1962 novel "Something Wicked This Way Comes." The whistled carol is an ironic presage of the evil that Cooger and Dark's carnival is about to bring to Green Town IL. Bradbury described the carol as "immensely moving, overwhelming, no matter what day or what month it was sung."
I should add that Bradbury was known to tell people he was "a graduate of the Los Angeles Public Library." I'm sure our Morris Public Library director, Melissa Yauk, would be delighted hearing that.
I saw an author on C-Span speaking about a book he wrote, about "blue collar intellectuals," that featured Bradbury among others (like Milton Friedman). The book was about people from a blue collar background who entered "the life of the mind." I have working class friends who are thinkers to a strong degree. I hope they look upon me likewise. Merry Christmas.
 
Addendum: Today we remember just the first verse, or the first few, of "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day." But there were four other verses that Longfellow originally wrote, which are now largely forgotten. They spoke directly to the events of the war that Christmas of 1863, and of the renewal of faith in that time of terrible trial. The first of these verses evoked the cannons' roar heard across the land.
But even then, the last verse brought a triumphant re-affirmation of the Christmas message.
Let's all embrace that. Let's embrace hope.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Our first Christmas without "Sandy" our "Eskipoo"

"Sandy" our "Eskipoo" took to winter!
Have you ever wrapped a little Christmas gift for your dog? We have done this through the years. It might be a rawhide chew bone. We'd put a little note on the gift saying it was from "Santa." Besides being cute, the gift would get the dog occupied while we opened all our gifts.
Our dog "Sandy" passed away in June. He was half American Eskimo and half poodle. There is even a name for this mixture: "Eskipoo." A less-used name is "pookimo."
Thanks to the Internet I would learn that this mixture, while very appealing, was prone to eye problems. That helped us understand Sandy's eye problems. He became essentially blind at mid-life, although I suspected he could make out vague images. He might bark when a jogger came by. But his sight seemed almost nil, not that this affected his happiness. He was happy as could be. He learned his way around the house.
He was a medium-sized dog, weighing about 40 pounds. We described him as "super medium."
Have you ever had a dog which you addressed by describing yourselves as "mommy" and "daddy" (or in my case, "brother")? I brought this up with the late Dick Wyman, Morris native, once. He laughed and said most certainly he and his wife had done this. "But we don't do it around company," he added.
Sandy would jump up on furniture when he was young, including the bed where he'd sleep with my father. The time came when I'd have to help him get to these places. I remember talking to the late Eleanor Killoran once, and her saying older dogs just keep slowing down. We love them so much, it doesn't matter that their (tangible) value as a companion diminishes. They lie around and sleep a lot, and they need help with so many things. They are dependent and we mind not at all responding to their needs.
Many dogs develop a particular health problem that spells the end of their life. The first dog we had at our Northridge Drive residence, "Misty," met her end like this. The vet told us it was cancer. "Misty" was a miniature Schnauzer. She lived a pretty full life but it was cut short. Then came "Heidi," our Lhasa Apso, and then "Sandy," dogs whose longevity was the maximum, exceeding 16 years. They did not die from an obvious health problem. They just kept getting slower, as Eleanor Killoran described, until it became obvious their bodies were shutting down.
Anyone who has questions about what it's like taking care of a very old dog, just ask us. "Heidi" lost her sense of hearing. Obviously their bathroom functions become more of a problem. You'll have to be prepared to do some spot-cleaning on your carpet. I'm sure that young families, i.e. "on the go" families, would be especially challenged taking care of a very old dog. Such dogs need a patient and loving person attending to them.
I found that with both "Heidi" and "Sandy," they'd walk around the house in a "possessed" sort of way, with special determination ("dogged" determination), rather than a normal way. It's as if these very old dogs felt a need to walk literally to stay alive. Or at least that's my theory. I'm sure if I were to share this observation with a veterinarian, the vet would nod in recognition.
A very old dog might alternate between periods of deep repose and walking determinedly. They progress slowly into this condition so we hardly notice. We feel unconditional love for our very old dogs. It's not just that we remember them from when they were younger. It's unconditional love, period.
We make sacrifices to nurse them along. We scarcely think of how it inconveniences us.
My father Ralph was alive when "Heidi" failed at the end of her life, and he "took charge" taking her to the vet. My father was the type to never show outward emotion. He took care of business at the end because he knew it was something that had to be done. When "Sandy" reached the sad last stage of his life, my father had been deceased for four months. I was now the one who had to take charge. Like my father, I tried blocking out emotions.
"Heidi" and "Sandy" had both lived beyond 16 years. "Sandy" was two weeks from his 17th birthday. Both dogs are buried along the rows of trees on the north end of our property. I don't recall how "Misty" was disposed. We put a little chicken wire over the bodies to discourage predators.
I inserted a little stick cross over Sandy's body. A few weeks later, I went back there and saw a perfect circle of sunlight coming through the branches and surrounding the cross. It was touching, a sign I took that Sandy was in heaven, at peace, no longer worrying about whether he could jump up on the furniture. And, being watched over by his "daddy."
We will have no Christmas gift wrapped for "Sandy," from "Santa" this year. In fact, our family stopped the tradition of wrapped Christmas gifts four or five years ago. We decided to celebrate Christmas just by going to our church, First Lutheran, on Christmas Eve. There we hold the lighted candles, following tradition. We are a family of two now, my mother and I, and we definitely don't need more "stuff" as with Christmas gifts. In fact we're de-cluttering.
We do listen to Christmas CDs and tapes. We tune in to Channel 30 on TV and watch some of the Christmas specials like the delightful "Muppet Christmas Carol." As a kid I watched "Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol." It's hard to believe "Mr. Magoo" would be the perfect vehicle for presenting this Christmas story. It was most perfect. I was able to find it on DVD at Coborn's several years ago. It has been a while since Coborn's closed, and the building stays vacant (and haunted?).
We haven't gotten a new dog. It wouldn't be ideal to take on that burden at this time. But we love dogs.
"All dogs go to heaven."
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

"Wonderland" concert at church prompts memories

Assumption Catholic Church, Morris MN
We attended the "Winter Wonderland" concert of the UMM Concert Choir Saturday night (12/7). I hadn't been in Assumption Church since I left the Morris newspaper. I used to visit there quite often to cover various things (St. Mary's School too).
Back in the 1980s I took a photo at the church that ended up on the front of the Diocese newspaper. Father Botz was retiring and was presented with a golf cart as a gift. He and Father Dressen got in and sped down the main aisle of the sanctuary. Both grinned widely. What a perfect and appealing feature photo.
These days the Catholic Church seems on the front page of the Star Tribune nearly every day, for reasons hardly joyful. Even the Morris Catholic Church has been scarred by the kind of misbehavior that is getting the dubious headlines. I wasn't blogging at that time. Nor was I blogging at the time the proposed Stevens County jail, which would have been an addition to our courthouse, was a focus of community controversy. The courthouse improvement project - a new courthouse? - did go forward, minus the jail, but at way too much cost and trouble, IMHO. Technology is steadily reducing the need for bricks and mortar assets in government. Why did we miss the boat on this?
Why does the Catholic Church keep getting as much support as it does, given the terrible things that have happened in its name? It's sad because the new Pope (Francis) is so inspiring and enlightening. He is a breath of fresh air. Now the Catholic Church needs to get rid of celibacy for priests. I remember discussing this with a former co-worker, initials H.M., and we concluded that celibacy was ridiculous on the face of it.
It's hard adjusting from tradition. I have told people that if the harm done by the Catholic Church is so bad, Catholics could easily just hop on over to a Lutheran church. Come on, is there really that much difference? Don't you think you could still get to heaven? Don't you think the sermons would be just as uplifting? You don't have to like the pastor or even know him on personal terms. Just go to church. Consider it a weekly "home base" for your life, like a weekly pep talk, so you can get through all the travails of the coming week.
 
Re. my travails. . .
In my case, I couldn't take the travails any more. If I had tried to stay at the Morris Sun Tribune newspaper, I would have aged an additional ten years by now. But most likely, I wouldn't have even made it. The day would have arrived when I'd have to just throw up my arms and say "I just can't write five new feature articles this week. . .I can't find a new article idea for the pork page. . .I can't achieve perfection in sports coverage because I can't get all the cooperation I need, or I just run out of time, and even if I do my very best, there would be voices out in the community calling me every name in the book, including our family dentist (which actually happened)."
How many of you can relate to the following? Your family dentist, with whom you thought you were on good terms, writes a letter to the editor of the county newspaper excoriating you, stating that the sports department is a "miserable failure," which of course means I'm a miserable failure. Do you possibly know what that feels like? The Sun Trib had just put out an issue in which I devoted a half-page of space to cross country - his area of interest - and there were four or five photos accompanying the article. My critic might say I'm a horses--t writer, and such language apparently crossed his lips easily - but I really just did the best I could. I hope Christmas can pierce his exterior.
People never understood that I might want to budget a little time for my personal life once in a while. Our family had to change dentists and at this point, I became nervous because there were no other dentists to whom we could flee. We were going to have to establish ourselves as patients there, the alternative being to go out of town, which considering my aging parents, was not going to be advisable.
Up until now we have done fine seeing Dr. Jeffrey Hauger and his associate. The new guy there doesn't see me as a journalist, he sees me as just an unemployed non-entity. That's advantageous. There are advantages to being unemployed if you can maintain some sort of safety net.
 
Ambivilance at Christmastime
I don't know what the long-term future is for me. I can't see myself working again because I have been too jaded, stunned and discouraged by the experience. But I'm only 58 years old. So I just don't know. I have never even dated a woman. On those few occasions when I have tried to break the ice in this regard, the women react like they are offended. Offended that I would even have such thoughts. I don't wish to offend anyone.
So I'm left somewhat alone at this stage of my life, trying to appreciate the Christmas of 2013, with two of our family gone: my father and dog. Merry Christmas to all. The "Winter Wonderland" concert at Assumption Church was wonderful. Kudos to the University of Minnesota-Morris concert choir and director, Dr. Christina Armandarez.
 
Neat idea?
Here's a suggestion: The UMM choir could do one of those "flash mob" things at Willie's Super Valu sometime when the store is busy. The choir members could filter in, looking like regular customers. They'd slowly congregate in one part of the store. There they'd break into joyous song. It could be videotaped and put online.
Last weekend was a busy one for UMM music. On Sunday night we attended the winter concert of UMM Symphonic Winds (what I used to call "band") and the UMM Chamber Orchestra. My late father Ralph directed the first UMM orchestra back in the school's formative days. My parents could have gotten me a babysitter but they had me hang around rehearsal.
Symphonic Winds is directed by Simon Tillier, with whom our family has developed special rapport. Perhaps we'll develop a British accent. Simon and my father were able to shake hands after the last concert my father attended at UMM: the 2012 Homecoming concert.
The Chamber Orchestra is directed by Joel Salvo.
Hey everyone: The University Choir has a concert set Friday, Dec. 13, 7:30 p.m., and it's free. Melissa Hanson directs that group. It's the non-auditioned vocal group (but still very good).
 
Humanities facilities
I find it ironic that our public school has an asset like the concert hall and UMM has nothing comparable. The HFA Recital Hall at UMM seems a little confining. Unless you have an aisle seat, you must say "excuse me" and have people stand up to let you in or out.
I wish the concert hall had been built as a shared facility between the public school and UMM. The two institutions were able to pull this off with the football stadium. Big Cat Stadium has a scoreboard named for a couple guys who were sentenced to four years in Federal prison.
The momentum building against the sport of football, for reasons I shouldn't have to cite here, is steady. The best thing that happens all year at Big Cat Stadium is the Irondale marching band rehearsing and putting on an exhibition.
A shared humanities facility between UMM and the public school could be used year-round. UMM doesn't have a true "concert hall." It has a "recital hall." Anyway, the music programs at UMM are quite strong. The Concert Choir used the cavernous space of the Assumption Church sanctuary for the carol concert. Don't let Bill O'Reilly know we don't use the word "Christmas." He might send his ambush interviewer, Jesse Watters, out here. "How come you're ashamed of Christmas?"
Actually, UMM is in position now to get some negative media attention, and it's because of difficulties with campus media publications. Things get curiouser with that. On Sunday night when I was at the HFA, I poked around looking for the new issue of the University Register. I could not find one, nor could I find one at the Student Center. Mind you, the University Register is not the problem. The libertarian "Northstar" is the problem. But I see no trace of either one at UMM now.
I checked again on Monday. Nothing. I have a theory: The UMM administration has suspended all student publications until a new set of policies can be drawn up to make sure they behave. If the University Register had come out on Friday, its main story would probably have been about "Northstar."
Since "Northstar" has become problematic for UMM, the administration just wants everyone to "zip it," which is the stance the U of M always takes when controversy brews. I think this policy accelerated after that Gangelhoff/Haskins thing years ago. The U knows that the media have an instinct to look for unflattering stuff. As Chuck Todd of MSNBC has said, the media don't go out to the airport to cover all the successful landings and takeoffs.
Here's what fascinates me: UMM may come out of this mess with the conclusion that "paper" newspapers on campus are unworkable and unnecessary in our new age. These troublemakers with "Northstar" can just go online, keep doing this thing, and get out of our face. We can ignore it. If they commit libel, which I think they already have, they can be sued. But online, this foolishness is much easier for all of us to dismiss.
I asked three or four students Sunday night at the HFA if they knew why the new University Register wasn't out. Not only did they not know a thing about it, they seemed to indicate they didn't care, like they couldn't care less about any campus newspaper. I think that spoke volumes.
The UMM chancellor, Jacqueline Johnson, felt the need to submit a letter to the editor to the town paper dealing with "Northstar." In a crazy twist, two issues of "Northstar" had been included as inserts (presumably paid) with the town paper, the Sun Tribune. The newspaper manager devoted a column to the unpleasantness, and one came away with the impression there's conflict between the two institutions: the newspaper and the U of M.
With whom should we side? The Fargo-owned Morris newspaper* or our U of M-Morris and its chancellor, Jacqueline Johnson? Hmmm.
The newspaper manager says "Northstar" is inserted with the Sun Tribune and that no one at the Sun Tribune has prior knowledge of its content. Chancellor Johnson says the Northstar is "student speech" and isn't the voice of UMM.
Back when I drove the van for the Sun Tribune and picked up ad circulars, I was always expected to give a "sample" to Evelyn Baas of the paper staff, and I'd be reprimanded if I forgot. So, it was common practice for the Sun Tribune staff to be familiar with contents of inserts/circulars prior to publication.
The Sun Tribune might not want to know what's in Northstar because then they might have to veto including it, and that would mean a loss of revenue. I still don't know who's paying for this (to have it inserted). There are well-heeled right wing interests out and about who pay for this sort of thing, but they don't like revealing themselves.
I attended the Christmas party of the UMM Retirees Association and overheard Judy Riley, a UMM retiree, take sides with Sue Dieter, manager of the newspaper, vs. Chancellor Johnson. I didn't care to hear that.
I would like to encourage all Morrissites to just stop buying the Morris paper. It could be a free-circulation paper like "Senior Perspective." Why not?
The Morris paper is stuffed with so many ads, why don't the big advertisers like Menards pay to get the paper in people's hands? Maybe we're being played for suckers.
Don't buy the paper, and you won't have to worry about "Northstar" getting into your home, being seen by children etc.
 
* Forum Communications, owner of the Morris newspaper, recently made a $1 million gift, not to UMM but to Minnesota State University-Moorhead. The money will create a "center for innovative journalism." A company spokesman said "Forum Communications Company has enjoyed a strong relationship with Minnesota State University-Moorhead for many years." So, Morris businesspeople, keep in mind where your money goes when you buy in to those "sucker ads" in the Morris paper, you know, when your business gets listed under some nice-sounding message. Spend your $ more wisely please.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Monday, December 9, 2013

Bob Hope, Judge Stahler & America's ultimate triumph

Judge Stahler - photo "courtesy" isn't for me.
I got within a few feet of Bob Hope once. The entertainer had arrived in Willmar via small plane and was slated to perform as some sort of fundraiser in Montevideo, as I recall. I heard later the event was not a success.
The name Bob Hope still meant a lot. But he was well past his prime. He was at a point where he might have been best off enjoying retirement. I'm guessing you couldn't count on a good draw just because of his name.
It's not uncommon for entertainers to keep going longer than they should. We wonder about Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones today. A performance by B.B. King was so deficient, someone felt he had to write a letter to the editor to the Star Tribune. To which, someone responded we should have more respect than that. And that's the whole problem: our need to feel reverence. Are we buying memories when we buy a concert ticket?
I had a chance to see Bob Hope when he was younger at the Minnesota State Fair. He brought out a female singer and fawned over her looks and not her musical ability. The latter was substandard. Mr. Hope said more than once: "Isn't she pretty?" Such an attitude wasn't surprising since Hope was from a generation that had pretty rigid ideas about women's roles. We love that generation - it's still with us - but it had flaws as all generations do.
Hope's generation needed prodding to overcome racial stereotypes too. Don Rickles made a living off these stereotypes. I saw Rickles perform in Las Vegas once. These guys were tremendously hard workers: Hope, Rickles and the rest. If you want to see just how regressive their sense of humor was, just watch a re-run of one of those old "Dean Martin celebrity roasts." Martin's "rat pack" was the epitome of lots of regressive things. Only in a retro sense do we laugh at a lot of this stuff today.
Hope was in his true salad days at the end of World War II. He had a reputation of building rapport with the troops, of helping the lowest-level troops sense some enrichment. The late Thomas Stahler of Morris remembered. So many of us still remember Judge Stahler. I never knew him personally. His recollections of his WWII service are included in a book put out by our Historical Society. The book seems more a treasure trove today than ever before. So many of the contributing individuals are no longer with us.
The book does so much to keep the memories of them alive. The term "the greatest generation" seems so apt when observing these names. I see some of their names and I can immediately envision them as if they were standing in front of me. Earl Wevley! They were so unique and iconic and yet so unassuming. They viewed themselves as ordinary people. Truly they were fortunate even getting through all the adversity of their younger years. The war was preceded by the Great Depression. 
  
Lean times in their youth
Tom Stahler graduated from high school in 1935, one year after my father. It was "the dirty thirties." The Depression was a specter. Stahler was born on a farm in Scott Township. He graduated from Alberta High School. My father Ralph graduated in Glenwood.
"There was no work, no money and no rich relatives," the Judge recalled. He decided that in his situation - no special advantages - he should get an education. Tremendously wise. He literally hitchhiked to Minneapolis to begin this venture, his possessions threadbare. He got his law degree seven years later. He said it's a myth how wonderful it is to "work your way through college." He wrote "I can attest that it is not so great."
He continued: "Those were the hardest years of my life and I missed many of the enjoyable aspects of college and cultural life."
 
Pearl Harbor, and then, changed lives
Tom had been married one year to Bonnie when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. Instantly he felt he'd be getting a "government job" soon. He didn't wait for a draft notice. He enlisted as a Marine. He was called into active duty in December of 1942. His first destination was South Carolina. There, at a place called Parris Island - Tom called it "the hell hole of creation" - he was "indoctrinated" as a Marine. There he learned that a private was "the lowest level a human being could be."
Tom got promoted to Private First Class, and was selected for officer's training. He was named Second Lieutenant in the Marines, which he learned was "the second most lowly position in the armed forces," he wrote. He progressed to First Lieutenant and was then commissioned as captain.
The year was 1945, the last year of the horrible conflict, when Tom was ordered to the South Pacific Theater. He went there on a ship that "zig-zagged" to try to avoid enemy submarines/torpedoes.
Tom had a fascinating flashback as this whole episode unfolded. This is incredible. As a child, Tom listened to his mother sing: "Oh, the monkeys have no tails in Zamboanga." It was a refrain so it got well embedded in Tom's mind. Where the heck was Zamboanga? What were the odds a little child from America's heartland would ever see it? Was it just a made-up place? Tom would learn it was certainly not made up. His ship pulled in there.
Zamboanga was on the island of Mindanao in the Philippines.
"On disembarking from the ship, I found to my astonishment that the monkeys, in fact, did not have tails. There were not many monkeys to be seen, however, because the Japanese had eaten most of them."
Tom's contingent moved on from that place. They moved on to Malabang where "the ground was so soft that digging foxholes was swift and easy." Wartime danger remained very much out and about. Foxholes! In the movies a soldier in a foxhole might pick up a live hand grenade and throw it back. I'm amused at how the "good guys" in these war movies have an uncannily good aim throwing grenades, even from fairly long distances. They all should have gone on to become NFL quarterbacks.
Soon Tom learned he was part of the burgeoning effort to invade the mainland of Japan - a daunting task to the maximum. A miracle then happened. The 'A' bomb was dropped. President Truman thus spared the lives of countless U.S. soldiers. Two A-bombs were needed vs. the blindly committed Japanese.
Tom recalled that Okinawa was a staging area for the planned invasion of the mainland. Tom had arrived there on an LST (landing ship/tank). He saw thousands of ships in the harbor. Aircraft were "stacked." But the troops had another enemy besides the Japanese or "Japs" (or "Nips" for Nipponese). The weather loomed. In August Stahler's group was ordered out to sea on a small LST, part of an effort to "prevent the thousands of ships anchored in the harbor from crashing into one another in the typhoon, which was upon us," he wrote.
Tom experienced three very violent days in the China Sea. His group then arrived in a Chinese city, there to disarm Japanese troops who had been in control. He found that the Japanese were terrified, not so much by being in the face of the enemy, but gripped by fears of what would happen when they returned home as a result of their "surrender."
 
Hazard prompts a prayer (in Norwegian)
In December Tom got word that he'd be heading back to the "states." He traveled in a two-engine transport. A violent rainstorm knocked out one of the engines. "The pilot gave orders to prepare to ditch," Tom remembered. The rubber boat was released.
I'm not sure a movie could do justice to everything Tom saw. Tom heard a comrade saying a prayer in Norwegian.
A miracle: The pilot got the plane to its landing in Hawaii with only one engine. Tom got on a ship and headed to San Francisco. There was Bob Hope! The entertainer was waiting there to greet and show good cheer with the troops. "He paid for hotel rooms and dinner for all the Marines on board," Tom wrote.
This was Bob Hope at the apex of his life and career. It was nice what Hope did in Viet Nam, but our troops shouldn't have been there in the first place. He once asked while in Viet Nam: "What's that smell?" It was marijuana.
Tom was able to have a few words with Mr. Hope. Tom said: "Do you know that the monkeys have no tails in Zamboanga?" Hope looked a little confused. He "scratched his head and stared at me over his shoulder," Tom wrote.
"I returned to Morris where our family has lived ever since. I practiced law for 23 years and was a District Judge of the 8th Judicial District for 18 years."
What an incredible life. A classic "greatest generation" life.
Much information for this post comes from the Stevens County Historical Society book: "The '40s, a time for war and a time for peace."
Addendum: I remember a joke that Bob Hope told at the Minnesota State Fair in the '70s. He talked about the bartender who looked down to see a grasshopper, and who said "I suppose you don't know we have a drink named after you." And the grasshopper looked up and said, "You mean you have a drink named Thorndike?"
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Monday, December 2, 2013

Our Samuel Smith, Civil War vet, running into eternity

The Sam Smith statue in Summit Cemetery, Morris MN (B.W. photo)
Our family is honored having its cemetery plot in the same cemetery as Samuel Smith. What a fascinating person Smith was.
You'd think Morris was located too far to the west to have much connection to U.S. Civil War memory. The town wasn't officially formed until 1871. We do in fact have those Civil War connections. Atop this list is the Samuel Smith "running rifleman" of Summit Cemetery.
I would guess such statuary is rare for a community the size of Morris. It's also very distinct and dynamic with its running pose. You might say Sam Smith has never stopped running, running forward and with elan on behalf of the Union cause, helping make the U.S. what it is today.
The Civil War is a little difficult to acknowledge today in comparison to other U.S. wars. Its obvious uniqueness is that it was Americans fighting other Americans. Speeches for such occasions as Veterans Day and Memorial Day don't seem to acknowledge the Civil War much. Those old vets are gone. In the spirit of reconciliation with the U.S. South, I think there's an effort to sort of soft-pedal talk about the Civil War. It was very messy business that had to be attended to. In its aftermath, all the U.S. states had to come together in the slogging process of re-unification.
The difficulties inherent in Civil War remembrance are underscored in a book by Tony Horwitz. Tony is a Pulitzer Prize-winning author. He traveled the South to study how the Civil War is remembered in that scarred region, a region that still has Stone Mountain as (sort of) a gesture to the "Lost Cause" of the Confederacy.
Southerners are conflicted about Stone Mountain itself. Southerners who want to keep it alive and vital, even with some corporate sponsorship, know they can't sell it as a true tribute to the Confederacy. So they try to adjust to modern times, making it a symbol of how the Civil War wounds needed to be healed.
To argue that the war resulted in something new and better is a little labored. Stop and reflect: The tragedy and toll of the war were so immense. Conciliation was forced by the North (or Union). In fact the South was crushed and left as something like a smoldering cinder. Horwitz found, unsurprisingly I guess, that many Southerners honored the old cause with little if any sentiment of reconciliation. Or, they painstakingly try to rationalize that the old cause can somehow be weaved into U.S. history as something other than an abject loser. I'll whisper: It was an abject loser.
  
A reflection of Gettysburg
Our Samuel Smith fought on the winning side. We can visit Summit Cemetery and admire the spectacular statue. It's very close in design to the statue at the Gettysburg Battlefield honoring the First Minnesota Volunteer Regiment.
Minnesota was quite the fledgling state when it sent its soldiers into the fray. Sam Smith reflected the melting pot of America. You might say America was a still-fledgling country.
Samuel was born in Germany in 1839. It gets complicated because he wasn't born as Samuel Smith! He was born Christ (or Christian) Zimmerman. The war would affect the name issue. He was age 16 when coming to America. He settled in Red Wing MN. He was age 22 when the Civil War conflagration broke out. He entered military service as a substitute for a fellow named Samuel Smith of Winona. He enlisted under Smith's name in Company 'K' of the soon to be heralded First Minnesota.
Huh? How, and why? The arrangements at that time allowed someone who was drafted to "hire" a sub. It does come across as a bit unseemly. Certainly unacceptable for today. But such was the way of the Union in the 1860s, and it would have Mr. Zimmerman taking his new name of Smith all the way to the grave.
Substitution was actually quite common. From this grew the saying: "A rich man's war and a poor man's fight."
My generation had problems with the morality of the Viet Nam War. That's an understatement, but war always proves calamitous from certain angles, even for the winners. There's the saying: "The first casualty of war is the truth."
You might get the impression looking at the Smith statue that war was a glorious proposition. While the cause may have been essential, the business of war was hell, and never more so than in the U.S. Civil War when medical knowledge was so limited. My friend Ken Hamrum notes that any time you were wounded in the Civil War and "it was more than a graze," you were likely in deep trouble. Of course, disease was as much of a calamity, most likely worse, than guns and bullets.
 
Fortunate to get through war
Considering all that Samuel Smith went through, he was incredibly fortunate to exit the war in good enough health to live a bountiful and productive post-war life. He was a very important early resident of the Morris area, building a large family that resulted in many descendants alive today.
Smith saw the panorama of battle in the eastern theater. He was at the First Battle of Bull Run, also called the Battle of Manassas. He got wounded while reloading his musket.
The Civil War was a transition time for Civil War weaponry. It's why the war was so tragically violent and took a toll as if a scythe. The word "musket" suggests the standard weaponry, but this was being replaced by the repeating rifle. One reason why Buford's Cavalry was so successful early in the Gettysburg battle, is that these soldiers had repeaters. The guns weren't always reliable. They could jam. But the military was on the cusp of a significant transition in the tools of war.
The "rifled gun" was deployed for the Civil War. This was an incredible advancement from earlier wars when "smoothbore" was used. The rifled gun discharged bullets that would spin. Shots were more accurate and powerful. Smoothbore was still around. It was a smoothbore that mortally wounded Confederate General Stonewall Jackson at Chancellorsville. The shot was "friendly fire." Jackson failed to survive an amputation. (There is an actual "grave marker" for his arm.)
Sam Smith's wound at Manassas resulted in his right thumb being amputated at the first knuckle. He remained full-go for military service. He became a teamster. He was hurt again in March of 1862, the second year of the war. A train locomotive at Sandy Hook, Maryland, frightened his team of horses. Smith got thrown from the wagon and was pounded by the wheels. Still he was not sidelined from service. He recovered from the chest and back injuries. He was assigned the ambulance corps just before the Battle of Fair Oaks in the spring of 1862.
Sam was discharged in 1864 and you'd think the war would be fully behind him. You'd think he could issue a sigh of relief, but no, he was ready to re-join the war effort. Surely this commitment demonstrates why such a grand statue is appropriate at our cemetery. Sam "substituted" again, this time for a fellow name of Johann Theis, but Sam didn't take on Johann's name. Now Smith is in the rolls of Company 'K' of the Second Minnesota. He got on board in time for General Sherman's march to the sea.
I found it unseemly in 1991 when the Minnesota Twins baseball team beat Atlanta in the World Series and some people invoked the "march to the sea" phrase. Let's not make such analogies.
Smith was discharged again on July 11, 1865, in Kentucky. Then it was back to Red Wing where I'd guess Smith was a transformed person, having seen all that he had seen. Smith resumed his work in a sawmill. The veteran married Catherine Hartman two years after the end of the war.
 
A venture into new challenge!
After all the wartime adventures, Smith was about to embark on the adventure (to be sure) of raising a large family: 12 children! Eleven were boys, ensuring that the "Smith" name would stay most high-profile for a long time here. What a legacy, both in terms of wartime service and family vitality. I'll venture he had the most incredible life of anyone buried at Summit Cemetery.
He attended a reunion of the First Minnesota in 1874 in Lake City.
The year was 1876 when Smith came to Stevens County, settling in Rendsville Township. He rolled up his sleeves for a farming career. He became active with the Overton Post of the Grand Army of the Republic, a precursor to the Legion, VFW and AmVETS of today.
Again there is a distinction: Those earlier vets were marking a war that had Americans fighting other Americans. The speechmakers of today can be a little restrained acknowledging that conflict, because after all, we have welcomed Southerners back into the fold.
Stone Mountain starts out celebrating the "Lost Cause" and ends up as a sort of symbol of reconciliation. A strange world, or strange country. Certainly a unique country. The bottom line is the South lost. General Grant's "total war" ensured that. He did what Lincoln hired him to do.
It wasn't until 1880 that Sam Smith became a naturalized citizen of the U.S. He had his name legally changed to Samuel Smith in 1889. Why? Descendants would explain that the Smith name would facilitate or make certain the pension benefits from war injuries suffered when he served as "Sam Smith." He first applied for a pension in 1872. He began getting $2 per month. In 1886 he applied for a hike in benefits. The name "Sam Smith" would cement his association with all that happened on the war front.
 
The grim nature of war
Getting pinned under wagon wheels reminds me of the Civil War trading cards which once made the rounds among boomer generation males. My friend Del Sarlette grins when recalling the Civil War series because they were "awfully gory." He grins about our ghoulish nature. Getting caught under wagon wheels is just the type of subject we might expect. Fortunately for Smith, he was resilient enough to overcome that and other incidents.
Sam and Catherine had a son named Ferdinand who died in 1895. It was at that time that Smith bought a lot in the Morris cemetery. Catherine passed away in April 1915. In October of that year, Sam, now age 76, traveled to attend the 50th Review of the GAR in the nation's capital. On the way back he visited the Gettysburg Battlefield.
Sam left us for the peace of heaven on May 11 of 1923. He died on his farm near Morris.
The statue of Smith is obviously inspired by the statue for the First Minnesota at Gettysburg. The pose is of a soldier making a bayonet charge. The statue in Gettysburg faces the Emmittsburg Road at the top of the slope where the fighting Minnesotans began their storied and tragic charge on Day 2 of the battle.
The Gettysburg statue, sculpted by Jacob Fjelde of Minneapolis, was put up in 1893, coinciding with the 30th anniversary of the battle. It wasn't until 1897 that this monument was formally dedicated, on July 2, the same date as when the First Minnesota gained its permanent fame. Governor David Clough accompanied the party of eligible honorees on the trip east. William Lochren was the emcee. Governor Clough donated the statue to Gettysburg National Park. "Three rousing cheers" came forth when Col. William Colvill, who commanded the men at Gettysburg, was introduced. The GAR post of Lafayette PA gave a 44-gun salute.
 
A salute from Morris MN
Sam arranged for his own statue in Morris as a gesture of honor toward the charge of the First Minnesota at Gettysburg. Sam was assigned to the ambulance corps on the day of this charge, and was not part of the charge. The First Minnesota had to close a gap in the Union line, and paid a dear price doing so.
Both statues reflect the "rank and file" of the military, nothing explicitly heroic. The common man of wartime was celebrated.
The statues have accomplished their purpose. Smith most likely got inspiration for his own statue from his GAR trip out east in 1915.
"Samuel Smith had a sense of history and his place in it," wrote Thomas Rice, whose research I pored over for writing this post. Thank you Thomas. "(Sam) and all of his comrades saw that they had saved the Union for posterity. They were proud of their accomplishment and wanted history to know about their deeds."
All is not placid with Civil War remembrance out here in West Central Minnesota. I have seen a Confederate battle flag flying at a residence in Starbuck. The Confederate flag is a symbol today of vague notions of rebellion. The actual "War of the Rebellion" - a term popular in the North during the war - had the rebels stomped out as if an ant underfoot. Lincoln, Grant, Colvill, Smith and all the others ensured that.
Let's salute Samuel Smith whose life is an incredible story. Pay homage at Summit Cemetery. Walk a little ways east and stop by our Williams monument also, which acknowledges WWII with my father Ralph's service in the Pacific. He was a gunnery commander. When my father died, one of my first thoughts was that I wanted to make sure there would be a gun salute for his funeral. There was, and it was moving. Thanks to our Legion, VFW and AmVETS.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com