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sheer awesomeness

The Black Swallow of Death

I know, you’ve missed me–I’ve been buried in real-world work again–but I’m swimming towards the surface.  In the meantime, here’s a transcript, with some additions, from a Facebook post that’s making the rounds–a story too fascinating, exciting, and (sadly) unsurprising to not share with you.

Eugene_Jacques_Bullard,_first_African_American_combat_pilot_in_uniform,_First_World_War Do you know who this is a photo of? Chances are you don’t, but don’t feel bad because probably not one American in one million does, and that is a National tragedy. His name is Eugene Jacques Bullard, and he is the first African-American fighter pilot in history. But he is also much more then that: He’s also a national hero, and his story is so incredible that I bet if you wrote a movie script based on it Hollywood would reject it as being too far-fetched.

Bullard was an expat living in France, and when World War 1 broke out he joined the French Infantry. He was seriously wounded, and France awarded him the Croix de Guerre and Medaille Militaire. In 1916 he joined the French air service and he first trained as a gunner but later he trained as a pilot. When American pilots volunteered to help France and formed the famous Lafayette Escadrille, he asked to join but by the time he became a qualified pilot they were no longer accepting new recruits, so he joined the Lafayette Flying Corps instead. He served with French flying units and he completed 20 combat missions.

Eugene Jacques Bullard. (U.S. Air Force photo)
Eugene Jacques Bullard. (U.S. Air Force photo)

When the United States finally joined the war, Bullard was the only member of the Escadrille or the French Flying Corps who was NOT invited to join the US Air Service. The reason? At that time the Air Service only accepted white men.

Now here is the part that almost sounds like a sequel to ‘Casablanca’: After WWI Bullard became a jazz musician in Paris and he eventually owned a nightclub called ‘L’Escadrille’. When the Germans invaded France and conquered it in WW2, his Club, and Bullard, became hugely popular with German officers, but what they DIDN’T know was that Bullard, who spoke fluent German, was actually working for the Free French as a spy. He eventually joined a French infantry unit, but he was badly wounded and had to leave the service.

Bullard became known as "The Black Swallow of Death," a pretty awesome nickname by any accounting.
Bullard became known as “The Black Swallow of Death,” a pretty awesome nickname by any accounting.

By the end of the war, Bullard had become a national hero in France, but he later moved back to the U.S. where he was of course completely unknown. Practically no one in the United States was aware of it when, in 1959, the French government named him a national Chevalier, or Knight.

In 1960, the President of France, Charles DeGaulle, paid a state visit to the United States and when he arrived he said that one of the first things he wanted to do was to meet Bullard. That sent the White House staff scrambling because most of them, of course, had never even heard of him. They finally located him in New York City, and DeGaulle traveled there to meet him personally. At the time, Eugene Bullard was working as … An elevator operator.

Not long after Eugene Bullard met with the President of France, he passed away, and today very, very few Americans, and especially African-Americans, even know who he is. But, now YOU do, don’t you? And I hope you’ll be able to find opportunities to tell other people about this great American hero that probably only 1 American in 1 Million has ever heard of.

Postscript: It’s worth noting that I also discovered this photo of Bullard being beaten by police in the famous anti-black, anti-communist, anti-Semitic Peekskill Riots of 1949. God bless America–the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Peekskill--Eugene Bullard attacked

515f1qwGj6L._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_The italicized text above arrived in my hands attributed to someone named Terry Dunn, via Facebook. I’m unsure of its provenance.

A more complete biography of Corporal Bullard appears here.
His wikipedia page is here.  (link repaired)

And there is even a book. It is amazing how much there is that we don’t know.

 

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Commentary

What Did You Do on Memorial Day?

I woke up, did some chores, went to the home improvement store to buy some gardening supplies, visited a friend to drop off a box of onion starts I’d grown from seed, ran by the grocery store, went to the feed & supply store to buy some tomato seedlings to replace the few that got frosted the other night, went to my in-laws’ house for burgers and corn on the grill, came home and planted tomatoes with my wife, then chased her around the house a few laps when the kids went off with their friends, then sat down at the computer and thought about Memorial Day a little bit.  Invariably, my pondering turned to what might very well be the most memorable and definitive photographic image to emerge from our ongoing, unending 24-year-old middle east war.

arlington

If you haven’t seen this picture before, and you live in the USA, then I’m wondering where the heck you’ve been?  It certainly haunts me–now more than ever, as the very forces we originally sought to defeat have reared their heads once more in the form of the baathist, Saddamite front known as ISIS or ISIL or Daesh or whatever the hell it is called today, claws at all that the most optimistic among us hoped to build. It begs the question: how fucked up is this war?

We should never have gone. We should never have left.

civil-war-garWhen I visit the cemeteries of my ancestors around Westsylvania, I am invariably proud beyond all reason of the “G.A.R.” starts on the graves of men of a certain generation. Likewise the veterans of the war to end all wars,” and the ensuing “war to end all wars.” Both my grandfathers from the verdant Appalachian hills of Bedford and Somerset counties to the seeming wastelands of Tunisia, Algeria, and Libya–one as a heavy maintenance mechanic whose service from 1942 through 1946 would take him from northern Africa to Italy, France, Belgium, and ultimately to Berlin. The other was crewman on a B-25 bomber beginning in the second battle El Alamein through the invasion of Italy. Before the war, he was a farm kid who had never been near an airplane–but within months after volunteering for service he was flying over Egypt dropping bombs on Nazis. How strange is that?

My father and uncles went to Viet Nam–three tours for dad, a navy man who for the rest of his life didn’t like to sit with his back to Asian people in restaurants.  He voted republican against the long, pro-union legacy of his family until the infamous “swift boating” of former Presidential candidate John Kerry.  It was the only time I ever saw him worked up about politics–“Those boys in the Swifts,” he seethed to me one night, “riding plywood in the rivers and deltas, they were sitting ducks. I knew a lot of ’em, and most didn’t make it home.”

I felt no compulsion to join the volunteer army of the mid-1980s, at a time when the only wars we were fighting were with small pond bullies and narco-despots who, after imageswe put them in power, refused to be our puppets.  Despite what you’ll hear from Reaganites, the 80’s weren’t a great time for patriotism–the only other bully on the block was the Soviet Union, and we all knew if we got into it with them it would be “please place your tray in the locked, upright position, put your head between your legs, and kiss your ass goodbye.”  We watched movies like “The Day After,” and took strange comfort in the encompassing fatalism of the time. If you’re going to go, go big. Right?

It was about that time that I ask my grandfather, a fiercely republican businessman, if it bothered him that I had no plans to serve, and he told me that under no circumstances was I to even consider volunteering. His exact words, if I recall correctly, were “Unless something bad enough to need fighting comes along you stay the heck away from that monkey actors’s dog and pony show. (an unusual rhetoric flourish I recall with great emotion, as it reflects my own mature writing style with eerie accuracy).  I didn’t spend four years of my life fighting a real evil to have my grandson used as cannon fodder in a bunch of penny ante conflicts our idiot-in-chief  is using to distract the voters from the worst economic policies since Herbert Hoover.”

My grandfathers’ generation was deified, and rightly so, and my father’s was largely ignored (he said neither he nor any veteran he knew every experienced anger or derogatory treatment from civilians, contrary to the stereotypes of so many Viet Nam Era-themed movies, and he considered himself lucky to be unrecognized–he didn’t want a parade or medals, just to get on with his life–a process that would require roughly 30 years and a lot of unhappiness for all of us).

Today, we do a better job of treating our returning soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines with the respect and recognition they deserve, but I fear that we let that respect for the men bleed over into the politicians from both parties who have misused these brave and determined young men and women and shortchanged so many of them.

There is a lot for our leaders to answer for–and I’d start with the sneaky policy of drawing down the regular military under the guise of tax reductions, then shunting our endless war onto the shoulders of the men and women of the National Guard.  Add to that the despicably low compensation our military receives, and the porous post-service health and wellness care that leaves so many of them broken and lost.

Even as I say this, I know that there are some who would call me unpatriotic, especially on this of all days, but I stand by that–especially on this day.  We can think what we want about wars–from the craziest right wing ‘burn down the world” proponent of expressing American Exceptionalism through carpet bombing to the hippiest dippiest sandal-soled anti-war bunny-hugger–but we need to get on the same page, the SPARE NO EXPENSE page, when it comes to taking care of these kids and young people (the use of the National Guard as a sustained combat force has led to a much higher than ideal number of older veterans serving for longer periods and leaving larger  families behind) who have left parts of their bodies or, in the case of our epidemic of PTSD casualities, parts of their souls, in the sand and on mountainsides on the other side of the world.

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Abraham Lincoln
November 19, 1863

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Friday Morning Rock and Roll Idols: The Dead Kennedys

What can I say about the DK’s?  I never listened to a lot of hardcore, but at the risk of revealing that I am and always was a bit of a poseur, I’d call them “accessible deadKennedys3.jpeghardcore,” owing to their intelligent, often scathingly satirical social, cultural, and political underpinnings. I missed out on the Sex Pistols at the top of their popularity, so when I began to become aware of music outside the dreck on mainstream radio, the Dead Kennedys seemed pretty much like the Kings of Punk–and an argument could be made that they always were and always will be.

Double Feature: Holiday In Cambodia and Police Truck

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The Meaning of NaNoWriMo Part 1 of 2

Image

Two days until NaNoWriMo, and I’m actually getting nervous–it’s good to feel nervous; the good kind of nervous.  It’s good to feel the good kind of nervous, I just wrote–going to go far with this writing gig.

If you’ve waded into the WordPress community–or Blogworld in general–you probably know at least a little about NaNoWriMo; if you don’t, look around. It’s in front of you, even if you didn’t notice. The scientific term is “abuzz.” NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month, and you can dig into the grimy details here:

http://nanowrimo.org/  

Basically, the idea is to write a short (50,000 word) novel in a single month.  They provide, via the web site, a tool to record and count your text–you can compose directly into the site or use your own processor and cut and paste–and a support community that continues throughout the year.  It’s really cool.  And it’s not as easy as it sounds.  Nor as difficult.*  I think.  It might just be.  I’ve come up short several times, but we’ll get to that.

You should try it.  If you ever wanted to write a novel, or if like me you’ve written crappy novels and 1400-page novels that really want to be six novels, and want to do it again, but better, it’s the perfect scenario.  We’re all doing it. 

I know, I know; if “everyone” was jumping off a bridge, would you jump off too?  I’m a little ashamed to admit that, long ago, when they were, I did, and it was terrifying.  I don’t have a sense of adrenalized dread over NaNoWriMo, not like I’m standing outside the railing of a bridge staring down at a trickle of water ambling over boulders–it’s more like disbelieving wonder, anticipation, and a little bit of chomping at the bit.  Christmas Eve, the night before the first day of a new school year (but without the new shirt–maybe I should buy a new shirt?), or before the first day of practice for a new sports season, the first day at a new job, or that moment when you’re young and you call a girl on the telephone–and she answers.

I’ve been down this road before.  I’ve failed NaNoWriMo before.  I’ve had legitimate reasons, but let’s be honest: Image

reasons are just excuses wrapped in petticoats and pretty bonnets, right. Right?  So, no excuses, no bonnets. (Part 2 is all about the bonnets.)

I’ve got a very simple, linear plot, a beginning, and end, a protagonist, an anti-hero, a moustache-twirling villain, and a darkhorse villain who may be the most villainous of all, or might be pretty reasonable, as villains go.  I haven’t plotted out the details, which makes things much more difficult given the time constraints, but there’s no point in dwelling on it–I’ll just be aiming my characters down the road, with a few harsh words and a smack on the ass, to see where they go.

 

*I reserve the right, when I’ve finished, to ramble on almost indefinitely about how hard it was, how far I’ve trudged, how sore my butt is from sitting in this chair all these hours, etc.