We're not lost, Sergeant, We're in … France


Ireland’s Wars: The Lusitania — Never Felt Better
27 September 2017, 17:56
Filed under: WWI | Tags: ,

A nice piece on the sinking of the Lusitania as we commemorate the 100th anniversary of World War I….

With the start of the First World War, many were expecting a titanic clash of the German and British navies, the race between the two for sea supremacy being one of the myriad of factors that the war had begun over in the first place. The commencement of hostilities had led to widespread fears that […]

via Ireland’s Wars: The Lusitania — Never Felt Better

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99 years ago, Marines, north of Paris

100 years ago, Thaddeus Stephenson Allen answered his country’s call and enlisted in the Marine Corps. T.S. Allen soaked up history as a young man, reading

stories of Lexington and Bunker Hill, Valley Forge, Lundy’s Lane, Chapultepec. These seemed to me like those stories which begin, “There were giants in those days.” Still, they gave a heroic background in my mind for the closer events of the Civil War, and the brief but glorious episodes of the War with Spain, in reading of which I was first introduced to the Marines.

The internet is an amazing thing. I was reading Alan Axelrod’s “Miracle at Belleau Wood: The Birth of the Modern U.S. Marine Corps” and he quoted, but did not identify one of the Marines in MAJ Thomas Holcomb’s 6th Marines. Checking the end notes, I found that it was from “Echoes from Over There” (Edited by Craig Hamilton and Louise Corbin), as quoted in Robert Asprey’s “At Belleau Wood“. Fortunately, “Echoes from Over There” is available online, so I was able to not only to find the original quote, but the full, first-hand story of Marine Private T.S. Allen. Not only that, but with a quick visit to Ancestry-dot-com, I was able to find out considerably more details about his family. (Sadly, once I get on that site, it’s a time-sink for me and I emerge hours later knowing many things, most of which are of no relevance to what I was looking for originally!)

He writes vividly of his first experience in combat, drawing on his knowledge of history. He wrote this while still hospitalized due to being gassed in Belleau Wood and one can easily see how he’d eventually end up in the newspaper business…

“Here they come!” a shrill boyish voice piped up.

“Hold your fire!” the injunction ran from officer to officer and man to man.

The German barrage lifted; the French guns almost ceased firing. The men about me were cursing and swearing in that choice collection of profanity that belongs to the Marines. It took me back swiftly, on the wings of memory, to a lonely walk in the woods I had taken, as a boy, when I had whistled to keep up my courage.

The German troops were clear of the woods. On they came with closed ranks in four lines. One looked at them with almost a friendly interest. No particular hate or fear. And yet there was a queer sensation along the spine, and the scalp seemed to itch from the tug of the hair at the roots. The fingers bit into the rifle.

“Hold your fire!”

As the command rang on my ears with a sharpness that enforced obedience, I seemed to be standing on Bunker Hill and hear the command: “Wait till you see the whites of their eyes!”

I think I know how those old Yanks felt that day, as the enemy drew nearer and nearer.

The next I recall is firing. Firing. Firing. My fingers were tearing greedily at more ammunition, then the instinct of the hunter restrained me. I began to fire slower, looking for my mark, making sure of a hit. The Huns now appeared to me almost on top of us and then, all of a sudden, there was nothing more to aim at. A few scattered groups with hands held up, racing for our lines and shouting “Kamerad! Kamerad!”

The Marines weren’t the only ones there, as Army units were on both sides of them, but this fight really does deserve credit for “The Birth of the Modern U.S. Marine Corps”. It remains legendary in the Corps and I hope to be able to some more research to learn the stories of these Marines and share them with you. If my cards fall right, I’ll be in Belleau Wood next year, walking the ground. After all, that’s the only way to understand it.



Three Armies on the Somme

The next Military Classics Seminar (18 April 2017) will feature a review of William Philpott’s Three Armies on the Somme: The First Battle of the Twentieth Century, by David Silbey, Professor and Associate Director at Cornell University in Washington. You have 8 days to read it!

If you’ve not attended the seminars before, you’re truly missing out. Each month (minus some summer months and December), either a member or a guest speaker provides and oral review of a military classic or a recent book of note. Discussions both precede and follow the commentary by the speaker. There’s dinner and a bar, so no one goes hungry or thirsty. The opportunity to discuss military history and rub elbows with a variety of historians is worth considerably more than the nominal $35 cost for the dinner. It’s held at the Fort Myer Officer’s Club and we gather at 5:30pm, with dinner served at 6:30pm and the talk starting around 7:30pm. The dinners are always good, but this month is special, as the dessert is pecan pie!

Contact Co-Secretary Eric Joyce via email: militaryclassics -at- gmail.com to make your reservation.


I also wanted to pass along the upcoming speakers and events at the University Club’s Military History Legion. I’ve not yet attended, but will likely circle July 11th, since Kevin Hymel doesn’t talk enough about Patton for me to have my fill….

Dinner is afterward, but there is an $18.00 open bar – Wine, beer, soft drinks and complimentary popcorn to hold you over during the talk.

All events are at the University Club: 1135 16th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036, Phone: 202 862-8800. You may also join us for dinner with the speaker afterward. Non-members may use credit cards or cash for dinner. Business attire (no jeans). Valet parking available: $12 for 2 hrs, $17 for 2+ hrs; some metered parking nearby but may run until 10 pm!

Questions? Contact Margaret Stoltz: mstoltz -at- universityclubdc.com. or Jeff Gibbs: tigrejj -at- aol.com

May 16, 2017 (Tues) – “China’s Quest for Great Power” by CAPT. Bud Cole USN (ret) will explain China’s naval expansion, and its linkage to the pursuit of secure energy sources and Chinese foreign policy, both globally and in an Asian context; in a presentation that we hope will be in time to anticipate pending developments in the South China Sea.

June 8, 2017 (Thurs) – “Playing War: Wargaming WW II in the Pacific” by John Lillard, will discuss the history and nature of wargaming and how the wargames conducted by the Naval War College allowed the US Navy to foresee the course of the battle for the Pacific during WW II.

June 20, 2017 (Tues) – “Scales on War: The Future of America’s Military at Risk” by MGen. Bob Scales USA(r), who will illustrate how, through the experience of recent conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, our adaptive enemies learned how to defeat American technology, and why a resurgence of neglected Army and Marine small units is now required.

July 11, 2017 (Tues) – “Patton’s Way: A Radical Theory of War” by Kelly Morningstar, who will describe Gen. George Patton’s radical doctrine of war, developed over decades, that contradicted official Army doctrine but led to brilliant successes such as his breakout from the Normandy pocket that shattered German resistance and liberated Paris.

August 24, 2017 (Thurs) – “The Great Siege – Malta 1565” by Jeff Gibbs, about one of the most celebrated but now neglected events of the period: the dramatic, desperate siege of Malta, where the Knights and the Maltese people heroically crushed the myth of Turkish invincibility.



Iwo Veteran poses and reminisces

During the reunion for the 71st anniversary of the Battle of Iwo Jima, I had the chance to meet Norman L. Baker.

Veteran posing with Thompson SMG in front of map of Iwo Jima

Norman Baker of the security element for HQ Company, 62nd Naval Construction Battalion, attached to Fifth Amphibious Corps

Norm served in the Sea Bees (Naval Construction Battalions) during World War II, but Norm wasn’t a skilled laborer like most of the men in the Sea Bees. He was just a young guy and assigned as part of the security detachment for Headquarters Company, 62nd Naval Construction Battalion. The battalion was attached to the Fifth Amphibious Corps, so he landed on Iwo Jima to provide security for the engineers and tradesmen.

Unlike Marines in the line, this ended up allowing him some opportunities for ‘wandering’. He told me of his fascination with airplanes, especially fighter planes. As soon as the airfields were “secured” enough that they could risk basing planes there, they did. So, Norm had a chance to get up close and personal with the planes. He related that one time, a fighter plane taxied off the runway and the pilot hopped down when he was nearby. The pilot was a young red-headed fellow, probably right about Norm’s age and was thrilled to be able to show him everything there was to know about the plane. It’s a thrill he still remembers. When he went back a few days later to see if he could find his new friend, Norm was told he wasn’t there anymore. One hopes that the pilot was merely injured or reassigned, but I can’t help but imagine that he was among the thousands who paid with their lives for the Marines to secure Iwo Jima.

Due to the proximity of the National Museum of the Marine Corps and the high profile of the event, several docents from the museum were in attendance and brought along some artifacts. When Norm was on Iwo Jima, he carried a Thompson Submachine Gun, as he is here in the photo. It was just happenstance that I saw him drift over and ask the docents if he could hold the gun. So, we all got some nice shots of Norm posing in front of the map they’d brought from the museum.20160220_151905

Attending these reunions is always among the highlights of my year because there’s such an opportunity to meet and mingle with some wonderful veterans, their families, historians and Marines of every era. Importantly, never forget the Sea Bees!



Chasing an autograph….

In France, it is already the 24th of May 2016, and the 40th anniversary of the Judgement of Paris. Why do I care about this? Well, not only do I love wine, but I love a good story.

In 1976, wine shop owner Steven Spurrier hosted a wine tasting that pitted California wines against fine French wines. George Taber was working as a reporter for Time Magazine in Paris at the time. The press release Spurrier sent out in advance was ignored, even by Taber, who’d taken classes from Patricia Gallagher at Spurrier’s Academie du vin. Worried that no one would cover it (after all, before 1976, “the new world did not exist” in Spurrier’s words), they reached out to Taber. He figured that if it wasn’t the slow Monday that he expected, he could always leave the tasting to cover whatever cropped up.

Chardonnay from 6 California wineries were blind-tasted along with 4 white Burgundies, followed by 6 California Cabernet Sauvignon and 4 bottles of Bordeaux. All of the judges were French, including chefs, sommeliers, restauranteurs, winery owners and wine writers. In a shock to the world, California wines won in both white and red.

I’ve had a whirlwind week for a wine-geek. On Monday night, the Smithsonian held a Judgement of Paris event, with wine-tasting. On Wednesday night, there was another on Capitol Hill. Then, when we arrived in the Outer Banks of North Carolina for vacation, we attended a third wine-tasting event.

Taber wrote about the tasting in Time magazine and the day it hit newsstands, wine lovers in America stormed into wine shops, holding the article and asking “Do you have these wines?” It changed the world of wine, giving the French, as Spurrier told Le Monde this year, “un coup de le derrière”, a kick in the ass. So, not only did it announce the ‘arrival’ of California wines, it forced the French to break out of tired, old habits and stilted styles.

So, when I read George Taber’s book about the tasting, I fell in love with the story. A tower of arrogance, American ingenuity, plucky immigrants, can-do attittudes, and a lot of luck, all tied together by one of my favorite things – wine.

In May of 2007, we were in northern California for a wedding and took a few days to tour Napa Valley. So, my trusty copy of Judgement of Paris was tucked securely in the back of my pants when we walked into Chateau Montelena, where Mike Grgich had made the winning Chardonnay for Jim Barrett. As we tasted the wines, which were exemplary, I thought myself a fool for carrying in a book that Jim Barrett didn’t write with the intention of asking if he could sign it. As such, it stayed in my pants and I mentioned nothing to my fiancé or our friend, Tom. Later in the day, after another tasting and lunch, we arrived at Grgich Hills Cellars.

Before we went in, our expectations were not high. Our second tasting had been a terrible disappointment and we’d walked away from two highly rated restaurants to eat lunch at a roadside tacqueria. I was further entrenched in the idea that getting my book signed was a silly idea. We even agreed on a code word that we’d use if someone was tasting and really just wanted to leave. We needn’t have done so, as it wasn’t George Taber’s wordsmithing, but the talent and dedication to his craft that Mike Grgich had practiced over the decades that shone through.

As we stepped in the door, Melissa inhaled the aroma of the tasting room and cellar, knowing we were in the right place. I spied Mike’s trademark beret from across the room and… bolted from the room to GET THAT BOOK! After tasting many wines, we put in an order to be shipped back to Virginia and, since Mike had left for the day by the time I got around to asking for his autograph, they shipped my book back to Virginia with our wines.

On Monday, I took my book along to the Smithsonian, knowing that I could autograph-hunt to my heart’s delight. During the panel discussion, I didn’t feel my normal nervousness when it came time for questions and asked Steven Spurrier, “So, in 1976, in Paris, how available were California, Australia, or wines from outside of France?” He answered, as noted above that in 1976, “the new world did not exist”. Then, we went into the hall and began tasting – with wines from Chateau Montelena, Grgich Hills Cellars and Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars. I was able to get Warren Winiarski (who started Stag’s Leap and made the winning Cabernet Sauvignon) to autograph above his photo. Violet Grgich signed on the same page as her father had. When I asked George Taber to sign on the Prologue page, he asked me why, with a sly smile on his face. We both pointed him out in the photo. When I found Bo Barrett to sign on his father’s photo, that evening, I told him about having the book stuffed in my pants at Montelena and he told me, “You should have just done it! We’d have loved it!”

However, I wasn’t fast enough. Steven Spurrier had already departed before I could find him. I imagined that I’d be doing a global chase just to find him for his autograph. Knowing that his wife, Bella, had taken the only photos of the tasting, I wanted her autograph too!

Then, a friend on Capitol Hill emailed about a similar event happening on Wednesday night. I knew I had to try. Interestingly, it’s the same friend whose wedding we attended in 2007.

Since it was on the Hill, I couldn’t make the 5pm start, arriving around 6:15. I was nervous because I’d had time to think about it and needed to overcome my natural introverted tendencies (I learned last year that I’m an “outgoing introvert”). When I walked into the room, I scanned the crowd, looking for Steven. While I didn’t see him, I did see George. In a fit of courage, I walked up, tapped him on the elbow and asked, like I’d known him for 20 years, “George, do you know if Steven is still here?” Neither he nor Stephen Winiarski knew where he was, but Warren walked up behind me and suggested that he might be out in the lobby. They were all so helpful and delightful.

I walked a step into the lobby, but having just been there, I decided to dive back into the crowd. I rounded a corner and… there was Steven. “Exactly who I was looking for!” I found the right page for his autograph and asked if Odette Kahn was still angry with him for not giving her notes back. She never forgave him. Though Bella was not nearby, she was with him at the event, so I knew I’d still get a shot at her autograph as well. Sure enough, after I’d tasted a few wines, I saw Steven carrying their bags as they headed for the exit. I think she might have been a little surprised, but without her presence, there would have been no photos of the tasting.

Now I have several autographs in the book and will continue hunting for more. For example, as I chatted with Stephen Winiarski, it never occurred to me to have him sign below the photo of he and his sisters at the beginning of Chapter Nine. I have my keepsake, but I will keep improving it.

My question to Spurrier is at about 43:30


Change to Dragoon/Colmar Schedule

There’s been a big change for the Dragoon/Colmar event this week. On Friday morning, we’ll be attending the Spirit of America show at George Mason University instead of conducting the third historical seminar session. That third session will now occur from 2-6pm that day.

18 Sept: 9 AM to 1:30 PM Spirit of American show at George Mason University
2 PM to 6PM Historical seminar III

Full schedule available on the 6th Army Group website



2015-2016 Military Classics Seminar Schedule

As I’ve noted before, I stumbled upon the Military Classics Seminar about a year ago and it’s the group I’ve been looking for the last twenty years. Each month, we gather in the Officers’ Club at Fort Myer to have a few drinks, enjoy dinner and hear someone give an oral review of a military history book. Some are classics, but some are more modern. Of course, the grandest benefit of attending is meeting your peers. There are military historians from every branch, authors of all kinds, retired military officers and interested amateurs like myself. Some of the greatest benefit to the meetings is the discussion between the attendees throughout the evening. It wanders across all periods of history, including sometimes dealing with personal experiences, and across all kinds of topics.

The dinners cost $35 and there’s a book raffle (I always put in an extra $5 and come away with a book a few times a year). We gather at 5:30pm for a social hour, followed by dinner at 6:30pm and the presentation at 7:30pm. To get onto Fort Myer, you need to use the Hatfield Gate unless you have a military ID. They will do an ID check and a routine inspection of your vehicle.

Make your reservation no later than the Wednesday prior to the meeting by replying Eric Joyce at this e-mail address militaryclassics@gmail.com or to Bob Goldich by phone at (703) 359-1074. Pay for the meal with check or cash ($35) at the entrance to the meeting room at Ft. Myer. Those who make a reservation and do not show are still obligated for the cost of the dinner.

2015-2016 Schedule

September 15, 2015

Overy, Richard. The Bombing War: Europe, 1939-1945. 2013.

Speaker: Walton Moody, Retired Historian

October 20, 2015

Saburō Ienaga, The Pacific War, 1931-1945: A Critical Perspective on Japan’s Role in World War II. 1978.

Speaker: Stan Falk, Independent Historian

November 17, 2015

Conger, Arthur. The Rise of U.S. Grant. 1931.

Speaker: Perry Jamieson, Independent Historian

January 19, 2016

Carl von Clausewitz, On Waterloo: Clausewitz, Wellington, and the Campaign of 1815. Transl. & ed. by Christopher Bassford, Daniel Moran, and Gregory W. Pedlow. 2010.

Speaker: Jon Sumida, Professor of History, University of Maryland, College Park

February 16, 2016

Daddis, Gregory A. Westmoreland’s War: Reassessing American Strategy in Vietnam. 2014.

Speaker: Erik Villard, Historian, U.S. Army Center of Military History

March 15, 2016

Hodges, Andrew. Alan Turing: The Enigma. 2014.

Speaker: Michael Bigelow, Command Historian, U.S. Army INSCOM

April 19, 2016

Dual selection: Alistair Horne, The Price of Glory: Verdun 1916. 1961, rev. ed. 1994, and Paul Jankowski, Verdun. 2014.

Speaker: Robert Goldich, Independent Historian

May 17, 2016

Katherine C. Epstein, Torpedo: Inventing the Military-Industrial Complex in the United States and Great Britain. 2014.

Speaker: Mark Mandeles, President, The J. de Bloch Group

June 21, 2016

Lawrence Freedman, Strategy: A History. 2013.

Speaker: Ron Spector, Prof. of History and International Relations; George Washington University




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