Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Wartime Wednesday: Project Fugo

In my blog on December 22, I wrote about one of the few attacks made on U.S. soil during WWII. A second series of attacks occurred in the Pacific Northwest by the Japanese between November 1944 and April 1945. Dubbed Project Fugo (literally “balloon bomb”) the attacks sent bomb-carrying balloons from Japan to set fire to American forests, in an effort to create havoc, dampen American morale and disrupt the U.S. war effort.

The thirty-three foot diameter, hydrogen balloons were made of lightweight paper fashioned from  tree bark and designed to ride the Pacific jet stream from Japan to the West Coast of North America. The trip took several days. Attached to a sixty four foot long fuse was either one thirty-three pound antipersonnel bomb or one twenty six pound incendiary bomb combined with four eleven pound incendiary devices.
Ultimately unsuccessful, (there were only six deaths during one incident) more than 9,000 weapons were released over a period of time and landed from northern Mexico to Alaska, and from Hawaii to Michigan. The attacks occurred at particular time of year because the period of maximum jet stream velocity is November to March. Unfortunately for the Japanese, this is also the time of year for maximum precipitation in the targeted area.
Since the end of the war these explosive devices have surfaced in numerous places. In November 1953, a balloon bomb was detonated by an Army crew in Edmonton, Alberta, and in January 1955, the Air Force discovered one in Alaska. The Sentinel reported that a bomb had been discovered in southwest Oregon in 1978. And as recent as October 2014 a bomb was recovered in British Columbia. Fortunately, to date no one has been injured or killed by these seventy year old war relics.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Mystery Monday: The Disappearance of Glenn Miller

Musician. Band leader. Soldier. Missing in action.
In 1942, at the age of 38 Glenn Miller was too old to be drafted. Wanting to support the war effort, he applied to the Navy but was rejected. He finally found acceptance with the Army who then transferred him to the Army Air Forces. As a Captain, Miller served as assistant special services officer for the Army Air Forces Southeast Training Center where his role was to support morale of the troops and civilian workers.
Playing trombone with the Rhythmaires, Miller appeared in service halls and recreation clubs in Maxwell, Alabama. He then formed a military marching band and wrote multiple successful songs that were aired on the radio. By the time he was granted permission to take his fifty piece orchestra to England, Miller had been promoted to Major.
On December 15, 1944 Miller boarded a small military plane and set out over the English Channel  for the newly liberated France where he would entertain the Allied troops. He was never seen again.
Over the years, theories abounded as to what happened. Conspiracy theories surfaced: Miller never got on the plane and was assassinated during a secret mission; the trip was unauthorized and the plane went down in the fog, the plane was destroyed by friendly fire; his death of a heart attack at a bordello was covered up.
According to Dennis Spragg, a senior consultant to the Glenn Miller Archive at the University of Colorado Boulder and author of “Resolved: The Disappearance of Glenn Miller,” the small plane probably crashed in the English Channel within seconds of take off after fuel intakes froze. The steel-framed, wood and fabric plane all but disintegrated, sending its heavy Pratt-Whitney engine plunging to the bottom.
Spragg is confident about the veracity of his theory. He spent more than four years and made dozens of trips to Washington, D.C., London and U.S. Air Force archives. According to Sprague documents from the investigation were boxed up after the war, sent to the United States and locked away.
At the time of his death, Miller left behind his wife and two children.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Selah Saturday: Unplugging the Christmas Machine

If you are reading this, you "survived" Christmas.

I'm not being facetious. For many of you getting to the other side of Christmas is your main goal for December. The holiday holds difficult memories, or you belong to what you feel is one of America's premiere dysfunctional families. (My siblings and I claim that our family put the "fun" in  dysfunctional). You spend the day or days with a family that argues, or you max out your credit cards trying to provide the perfect gifts for your loved ones.

You are not alone. My internet search for "self-help books" + "Christmas" returned over seven million hits. Granted, not all of them were applicable, but the list included dozens of books aimed at helping folks make it through Christmas and the associated hoopla. (An interesting aside: when I exchanged Chanukah for Christmas I didn't get any applicable results)

Years ago, while living in the Washington, DC area, I read Jo Robinson's book "Unplug the Christmas Machine." Originally published in 1991, since then it has had thirteen printings - thus indicating that people continue to search for ways to handle the holiday.

I currently manage the front of house (read dining hall) for a boarding high school. The students leave for two weeks from the Saturday before Christmas to the Monday after New Years. In the past, I have spent the two weeks catching up on everything I didn't get done during the year: reports and year-end stuff at work as well as deep cleaning the house, sending out New Years cards because I don't have time to do Christmas cards, and the many other tasks that pile up.

This year my husband and I swapped our timeshare for a condo on the Maine coast where we stayed for the week of Christmas. It is a lovely place overlooking the ocean in Wells, Maine.

When we first decided to go away for Christmas I was overwhelmed with guilt. Was something wrong with us? Who goes away for the holiday without seeing family? Even as we were pulling out of the driveway I had second thoughts.

It was dusk when we arrived at our destination. The sun was setting over the harbor, and the stars were beginning to dot the darkening sky. We checked in, and I was impressed to discover the front office would be closed for Christmas day. The resort was actually giving their employees the day off! If a company could "unplug" for Christmas, maybe I could, too.

The following morning, after a restful night of ten hours of sleep (not sure the last time THAT happened), I awoke refreshed. The guilt was gone. Our remaining vacation days were a mixture of reading, writing, walking, playing games, watching football, and "lollygagging."

I was blessed with the opportunity to get away. Perhaps you were not. Or perhaps, your Christmas was the stuff of nightmares and "made for TV movies." I urge you to take an hour to recover. It won't be enough, but it's a start.

Make the time. Now.

Get out your calendar, and schedule an appointment with yourself. Send the family out for dinner without you. Or go to your favorite spot in the house and lock to door. Post a do not disturb sign on the door and do something that revives and rejuvenates you. Read. Write a letter. Stare out the window. Breathe deeply. Listen to music. Drink a cup of your favorite tea or coffee. Pray.

Repeat. Yep, that's right. Pull out your calendar again. Schedule another appointment with yourself. You won't believe the difference it makes.

May you have a blessed 2016.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Talkshow Thursday: Paradogs

Welcome to Talkshow Thursday. Ruth Brown (fictional war correspondent) reporting on the unusual use of dogs by the British in their efforts to win the war again the Germans.

Reports are conflicting as to when the government began its war dog training, but by 1942 several locations had been created. British War Office sent out appeals over the wireless asking dog owners to lend their pets to the war effort. Because of rationing and the dearth of food, it wasn’t long before the Office was overwhelmed with dogs. (An interesting aside: because of anti-German feelings, German Shepherds were renamed Alsatians).

After approximately two months of intensive training, the dogs were used to locate and identify landmines, and keep watch and warn about enemy troops. The animals were also used as guard dogs at airfields, ammo dumps and prisoner-of-war camps.

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the National Canine Defence League and the Animal Protection Society of Scotland and Northern Ireland cooperated in the recruiting of dogs, as well as made the arrangements for exams and registration of the animals.

Troops often parachuted behind enemy lines. The Army soon realized that in order for the dogs to accompany the men, the animals would need to be delivered the same way. Training the dogs to leap from the airplanes was challenging because of the canines innate sense of self-preservation (I’d hazard a guess a large percentage of the men felt the same way!). Eventually, the dogs learned they would be rewarded with a piece of meat upon landing. They were also trained to become familiar with (and unfearful of) loud noises and the acrid smell of cordite (the explosive powder in bombs).

At the end of the war many of these gallant dogs were awards the Dickens Award – often referred to as the animals’ Victoria Cross.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Traveling Tuesday: Ellwood Oil Field

Many (dare I say most) Americans are unaware that attacks were made on U.S. soil during World War II. I only discovered the information in the last few years while conducting research for my stories. It certainly wasn’t taught during any of my history classes in school.
Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii in December 1941, seven Japanese submarines patrolled the American West Coast. They sank several merchant vessels and skirmished twice with U.S. Navy air and sea forces. At the end of December, the submarines returned to friendly waters to resupply.
On February 23, 1942, a lone Japanese submarine returned and slipped into a channel near Ellwood Oil Field, a large oil field well and storage facility outside of Santa Barbara, California. The vessel was captained by Kozo Nishino, a former merchant ship commander who had used the Field's fueling services prior to the war. At 7:15 PM he gave the order to surface then shot sixteen shells at Ellwood Beach from the sub's single deck gun before submerging and fleeing to the open ocean.
There were no injuries, and damage was minimal - a derrick and pump house were destroyed. However, the attack led to public panic. Myriad witnesses reported seeing offshore enemy signal lights, and some newspapers referred to the incident as the "Bombardment of Ellwood" escalating the level of fear. The Federal government's internment of Japanese-Americans began a week later. The following year, an "Avenge Ellwood" fund-raising campaign was created for a war bond drive.
Today Santa Barbara County owns the site of the oilfield equipment damaged by the Japanese. The Sandpiper Gold Course is on the beach below the area. A historical marker is posted on a rock on the Golf Course grounds recounting the incident.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Forensic Friday: The Art of Forgery

I recently started reading “The Art of Forgery” by Noah Charney. Part textbook, part true crime, the book is an intriguing look into the dark side of art. According to the author “art has been copied, misattributed and forged since before biblical times.” He also states that “beyond deliberate fraud, there are many noncriminal reasons why a work of art might be misattributed, sometimes to the benefit of the owner.”

So, how is art authenticated?

For years, the industry relied on connoisseurship. Individuals became “connoisseurs” or experts about an artist or artists by seeing and studying his or her works. The experts examined brushstrokes, the application and thickness of paint, and the way artists painted certain recurring themes. This was the widely accept method to determine authenticity and value until the early 20th century.

According to Charney “copying art has always been the way young artists learned their trade - copying or imitating another artist's style is only a crime if someone tries to pass off the copy as an original.” History is littered with cases of this type.

The first time science was used to convict a forger was in 1932 at the trial of Otto Wacker. A German art dealer, Wacker commissioned and sold forgeries of the paintings of Vincent Van Gogh. At the trial, the prosecutors brought forth two Van Gogh experts to testify. However, a wrench was thrown in the works when the experts could not agree on which, if any, of the pieces were genuine. To make matters worse, one of the experts repeatedly changed his decisions.

Enter Martin de Wild – a Dutch chemist and author of the 1929 book “The Scientific Examination of Pictures.” He tested the oil paint from several of Wacker's Van Goghs. Resin and lead, chemicals that make oil dry faster, were found to be mixed into the paint. Wacker was convicted based on this evidence and sentenced to a year in jail. He appealed the decision, and his sentence was raised to nineteen months. Probably not the result he expected.

Science continues to be used to authenticate art. And art forgers continue to improve their techniques in an effort to beat science at their own game.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Wartime Wednesday: Propaganda


Webster's New World Dictionary defines the word as “any widespread promotion of particular ideas, doctrines, etc.” To some people the word holds negative connotations.

However, during WWII, propaganda was used in a positive way throughout the United States. Posters were plastered in bus stations and on subway walls, in grocery stores, and many other public locations. The posters were also reproduced on full pages in newspapers and magazines.

“You buy 'em. We'll fly 'em.” (Defense war bonds)
“Your scrap brought it down.” (Scrap collecting)
“Food is a weapon, don't waste it.” (Rationing)
“I've found the job where I fit best.” (Women in the workforce)
“Sailors beware, loose lips can cost lives.” (Confidentiality)

In addition to the posters, the government produced documentaries and fictionalized accounts of the war. Several of Hollywood's most successful directors, including John Ford, Frank Capra, John Huston, and George Stevens, enlisted in the Armed Forces. Many of the films were narrated by or featured big name stars such as Jimmy Stewart, Spencer Tracy, Ronald Reagan, Clark Gable, and Katherine Hepburn. The Office of War Information coordinated the efforts of the various film-making entities.

Some of the movies were short training films aimed at the newly-minted soldiers, sailors and airmen. Topics ranged from “How to Fly a B-17” and “How to Shoot a Rifle” to “Materials Handling in AAF Depots.” Others, such as Capra's “Why We Fight” series informed the troops about the Axis powers. “Prelude to War” is the first in the series and won an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. Roosevelt felt “Prelude to War” was so important he ordered that it be distributed to movie houses all over the country.

Other movies were directed at the general public. Prior to the attack at Pearl Harbor, a high percentage of U.S. citizens held isolationist views. Afterward, many felt the U.S. should focus on defeating Japan rather than get involved in the war in Europe. As a result, the government produced films to specifically gain support for their decision to partner with England and the other Allied countries to defeat Germany.

Propaganda is still used today in books, movies, and other avenues. Can you think of a book you've read or movie you've seen that would qualify?

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Wartime Wednesday: Civil Defense

While conducting research for a manuscript, I was surprised to discover that many of the U.S. organizations that operated during WWII were actually created before or during WWI (also referred to as The Great War). The Office of Civil Defense was one such organization. When the Lusitania was sunk in 1915 by a German U-Boat, the government inaugurated the Council of National Defense, modeled after Great Britain's system. CND's initial charter was to promote protective measures and elevate national morale.
Fast forward to the spring of 1941. No doubt recognizing that war was imminent, President Roosevelt decided to step up home front defense. He advised communities to reestablish or organize their own local civil defense councils, which had waned substantially in the years since World War I. To coordinate and assist the new civil defense system, Roosevelt replaced the CND with the Office of Civil Defense (OCD) on May 20, 1941, and named New York mayor Fiorello La Guardia as the first director. For the first several months, little public enthusiasm existed for civil defense.
Then Pearl Harbor was attacked, dramatically changing the American public's attitude. Many local civil defense units quickly formed, and OCD was overwhelmed with requests for information and assistance.
To help organize the civilian volunteer efforts and provide adequate training for volunteers, the U.S. Citizens Defense Corps was established within the OCD in April 1942. Locally designated wardens and various auxiliary emergency workers were the core of the system. Specialists included air raid wardens, auxiliary firemen, auxiliary police, emergency food and housing personnel, chaplains, air patrol workers, decontamination specialists, demolition experts, fire watchers, instructors, medical corps, drivers, messengers, nurses' aides, rescue squads, road repair crews, and utility road squads.
Members wore insignias on their helmets and armbands to identify their specialty. The OCD symbol was a white triangle inside a blue circle. Specialists' armbands displayed a unique insignia within the OCD symbol.
The Civilian Voluntary Service organized a variety of volunteer efforts, including scrap drives, victory speakers, victory gardens, and neighborhood block leaders. Another group was responsible for getting survival information out to the public. Because the technology of radar was still in the development stage in 1941 and the coverage provided by existing radar installations did not extend to many coastal areas the Aircraft Warning Service (AWS) was created. Men and women called spotters watched the sky for enemy aircraft.
Another auxiliary assisted the Coast Guard, patrolling the coastline for enemy ships and guarding port facilities in addition to the traditional duties of sea rescue. Notable volunteers included actor Humphrey Bogart, who operated his yacht on several patrols out of Los Angeles, California; and Boston Pops Orchestra conductor Arthur Fiedler, who helped patrol Boston Harbor in Massachusetts.
The Civil Air Patrol (CAP) was another major part of civil defense during World War II. CAP pilots were given two hundred hours of special training, and by March 1942 they were on patrol duty looking for enemy submarines as well as conducting search-and-rescue missions.
At its height over ten million citizens served in one way or another within the civil defense service.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Traveling Tuesday: Avenger Field

As I've mentioned in previous posts, there were no WWII battles fought on American soil, although there were isolated incidents such as incendiary bombs dropped in the Pacific Northwest. However, there was a tremendous amount of mobilization and preparation by both the military and private industry.

Three hours west of Dallas, Texas is the town of Sweetwater. Started in the late 1870s, the Texas and Pacific Railway arrived in 1881, and the tiny hamlet quickly expanded into a railroad town. The area continued to develop, and in the 1920s the Sweetwater Municipal Airport was built. Using WWI surplus Curtiss airplanes, a small flight school operated until Spring 1942 when it was taken over by the Plosser-Prince Air Academy. Initially known as British Flying Training School No. 7, the Sweetwater Airport was renamed "Avenger Field" as a result of a contest won by a Mrs. Grace Faver.

In the Autumn of 1942, the government requisitioned the airport and closed the
private flight school. Converted to an Army Air Force installation, it trained pilots in preparation for twin-engine flying and subsequent overseas service. Change occurred again when the facility became an all-female training school for the Women Air Service Pilots (WASPs). A new class entered the school every thirty days. A total of eighteen classes completed training. Of the 25,000 women who applied for flight training, 1,830 were accepted, and of those, 1,074 received their wings. Training for women pilots paralleled but did not duplicate that given the men. Gunnery and formation flight training were omitted. Because the women were expected to go into ferrying, emphasis was placed on cross-country flying.

Avenger Field remained a WASP training base until it closed in December 1944. At the end of the war the airfield was determined to be excess by the military and turned over to the local government for civil use. In the mid-1950s the government returned and set up a radar station that operated until 1969. Now home to the WASP Museum, pilots flying over Sweetwater can still land at Avenger Field at the Sweetwater Airport.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Wartime Wednesday: Shelters

During WWII, the American homefront was separated from the war front. There were no battles fought on American soil. Not so for the British people. They did not suffer invastion, but England was bombed on repeated occasions. The piercing sound of air raid sirens became a daily occurrence – sometimes multiple times a day. As a result, citizens had to regularly protect themselves from falling debris or buildings. There were several options available.

England's Ministry of Home Security issued a pamphlet “Your Home as an Air Raid Shelter” that uses over twenty pages of text, diagrams and photographs to describe how a house could be altered to keep inhabitants safe. Instructions covered everything from a “garden shelter” (an open trench) to a “refuge room.” A companion piece written by the Welfare Adviser to London, Mrs. Creswick Atkinson, was entitled “A.R.P at Home – Hints for Housewives.” It asked questions such as “Is your shelter clean and always ready for use?” Certainly an area of housekeeping I had not considered!

Anderson and Morrison shelters were another option available to home owners. Anderson shelters were named after Sir John Anderson, then Lord Privy Seal, who initiated their development. The shelters were designed to accommodate up to six people. The main principle of protection was based on curved and straight galvanised corrugated steel panels. A small drainage sump was often incorporated in the floor to collect rainwater seeping into the shelter. The shelters were 6 feet high, 4 ½ feet wide, and 6 ½ feet long. They were buried 4 ft deep in the soil and then covered with a minimum of 15 inches of soil above the roof.

Morrison shelters were named after Herbert Morrison, the Minister of Home Security at the time. Each shelter had a cage-like construction beneath it and were used inside the house. They were approximately 6 ½ feet long, 4 feet wide and 2 ½ feet high There was a solid 1/8 in steel plate “table” top, welded wire mesh sides, and a metal lath “mattress”- type floor. Altogether it had 359 parts and had 3 tools supplied with the pack with which to assemble it. (Not a good choice if you weren't mechanically inclined, or if you were in the least bit claustrophobic!)

Another publication from Home Security entitled “After the Raid” discusses the need to make plans about what to do in the event someone's house was destroyed, how to find food and shelter, receive compensation for damage to houses, how to replace damaged furniture and other belongings, and tracing friends and relatives. This last section is what brought the war to a more personal level for me. It made me realize the constant uncertainty the British people lived with (and those in other countries impacted by bombings and battles). They had no idea when they left the house each morning whether they would have a home and/or family to return to that evening, or if they would be caught spending the night in a communal shelter or one of the Underground stations.

Something to think about.