Thursday, November 20, 2014

In the Classroom

“I touch the future.  I teach.” Christa McAuliffe 

Christa McAuliffe, a social studies high school teacher in New Hampshire, was selected to participate in the NASA Teacher in Space program.  She was one of seven crewmembers to die aboard the 1987 space shuttle Challenger.

I relish the several times a semester when I’m back in the classroom teaching; I have ample time to strategize about engaging the students.  Because they have little contact with books, I try to take several in with me and read from them.  When Professor David Grimsted first started out at Bucknell, he came to my initial Historiography class with about a dozen tomes by the likes of Thucidydes and Tacitus, eager to expose us to the pioneers in his field.  Five years later Grimsted had moved on to Maryland, where I was a grad student and became a leading expert on antebellum riots.

In Nicole’s class, with four books in hand, I talked about the wartime movies “Casablanca”, “Bataan,” and “The Story of G.I. Joe,” the later based on the experiences of Ernie Pyle, whose column appeared in over 300 newspapers.  Pyle was embedded with troops in North Africa, Italy, England, France (he witnessed the liberation of Paris), and the Pacific.  He died at age 45 from machine gun fire on a small island near Okinawa.  Pyle had an authentic style that did not glorify the bloody business of war.  As historian Richard Lingeman wrote in “Don’t You Know There’s a War On: The Homefront, 1941-1945”:
  “Ernie Pyle’s war was an antiheroic one perfectly in tune with the men who were fighting in it – men like those two archetypical GIs Willie and Joe, whom the cartoonist Bill Maulden had caught so well with his pen.  Pyle concentrated on details – the debris of shoes, cigarettes, writing paper left behind by the dead at Normandy, for example.  He conveyed a quick sympathy for the GIs and wrote about what the ordinary soldier saw, thought, felt.”

I also showed cartoons from Bill Maulden’s 1944 bestseller “Up Front.”  A sergeant with the 45th Division and Stars and Stripes contributor, he, like Pyle, depicted with humor and pathos soldiers’ mundane everyday routine, interrupted by sudden moments of terror.  GIs identified with the unkempt and unshaven Willie and Joe, but General George Patton unsuccessfully tried to censor Maulden’s drawings for supposedly subverting discipline. 

A student of Syrian ancestry gave a report about Archbishop Damaskinos Papandreou and the fate of Greek Jews during the war.  While approximately 87 percent were Holocaust victims, the Archbishop protested their deportation to concentration camps and published a letter expressing his deep concern.  When a high Nazi official threatened to have him executing by firing squad, he responded sarcastically, “According to the traditions of the Greek Orthodox Church, our prelates are hanged, not shot.  Please respect our traditions.” Papandreou also told churches to issue Christian baptism certificates to Jews, saving the lives of thousands.  I plan to tell the student that the expert on Bulgaria and the Jews, Fred Chary, is an emeritus professor and would be available to her if she wanted to do an independent study on the topic.

I saved my intended remarks about Kenneth S. Davis’ “FDR: The War President” for another day.  The book concludes with a description of a White House dinner on December 31, 1942.  With FDR were Eleanor and intimates Sam and Dorothy Rosenman, Bob and Madeline Sherwood, Henry and Elinor Morgenthau, Harry and Louise Hopkins, and Prince Olav and Princess Martha of Norway.  The President Had been carrying on a serious flirtation with Princess Martha, causing his former lover Missy LeHand to suffer a nervous breakdown from which she never recovered.  After the meal came a private screening of the soon-to-be-released film “Casablanca, starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman.   Davis wrote of “Casablanca”:

  “A bittersweet story of love amid war, of individual lives overwhelmed by history and enabled to become good or evil only through their willed responses to it, the film was soaked through and through with the selfless idealism and spirit of personal sacrifice to a transcendent cause.  Even people who deemed themselves hardheaded realists and objected to the sentimental as a perversion of honest emotion were often deeply moved by this picture story.  Perhaps Franklin Roosevelt was moved by it to add to his customary midnight toast, ‘To the United States of America’ the words ‘And to United Nations’ victory.’”                                            

By 1944 Roosevelt’s friends were mostly elsewhere or dead.  Eleanor was either touring the country, overseas outposts or with her lesbian friends.  Ever since discovering he was unfaithful to her 25 years before, she had refused to sleep with him.  Daughter Anna arranged for him to re-connect with his recently widowed former mistress, Lucy Mercer Rutherfurd.  He took delight in arranging trysts, made relatively easy by wartime censorship.  She was with him in Warm Springs when he died. Historian Arthur E. Schlesinger, Jr., wrote that if Rutherfurd “in any way helped Franklin Roosevelt sustain the frightful burdens of leadership in the second world war, the nation has good reason to be grateful to her.”

I can understand why Alan Barr and Jean Poulard, both in their mid-70s, still teach.  Barely five feet tall, Barr jokes that he still needs a soapbox.  I could never have been an administrator, sitting through seemingly endless meetings.  After a good teaching day, I’d often say to myself, “I earned my pay today.”  It never got boring.

Ray Smock wrote a blog about the $60 million Capitol dome restoration project entitled, “Restoring the Capitol Dome?  How about Restoring Representative Democracy?” Arguing for the need for historical context and analysis by Capitol Hill reporters and more civility by lawmakers, he wrote:
“There are no sandblasters, welders, painters, engineers, and architects who can fix a dysfunctional Congress trapped in hyper-partisanship and blinding ideology.  What has happened to Congress when threats of impeachment and government shutdown follow every major disagreement with the President?  This is not governance; it is warfare, with the U.S. Constitution and the American people, not partisan officeholders, as the ultimate victims.”

Smock referred to Poet Laureate Howard Nemerov.  In 1989 Ray was House Historian and asked Nemerov to write a poem commemorating the Congressional bicentennial.  It started out, “Here at the fulcrum of us all.”  A WW II pilot, Nemerov in 1977 wrote “The War in the Air.”  Here are its first and last verses:
“For a saving grace, we didn't see our dead,
Who rarely bothered coming home to die
But simply stayed away out there
In the clean war, the war in the air.
. . . .
That was the good war, the war we won
As if there was no death, for goodness's sake.
With the help of the losers we left out there
In the air, in the empty air.”
In an email Ray wrote:

“Meeting and getting to know Howard Nemerov was a highlight of my Hill experience. His is a great story and I love all his poems and I have all his books of poems in my library. The one you picked out is a gem coming from a young pilot who flew so many missions, first for the Royal Air Force, which had an American unit training in Canada before we got into the war, and then for the Army Air Force, as they called it then. His description of death in the air reminds me of Thomas Pynchon comment about war being so ‘absentee.’
Look back to that 1989 Congressional ceremony 26 years ago and the leaders who were WW2 Veterans. Jim Wright, decorated bombardier flying in B-24s in the Pacific; Bob Michael, decorated infantryman wounded at Normandy; Bob Dole, so badly wounded in fighting in Italy that they shot him full of morphine and left him in his own blood; Robert Byrd, no military service but a welder in Baltimore and shipyards in Florida building Liberty Ships;
           It was a different generation, a different time, and a different sense of public service. In 1989 the next generation was making its move, with an Army brat who never served in uniform, Newt Gingrich, hounding Jim Wright out of office, and then giving Tip O’Neill fits. Today Congress is populated with more non-veterans of any war, than at any time in our history.  I am not making a case for warriors as the best leaders. But I am saying that a commitment to serve the country in some capacity is a good start on Congressional service. You need some qualification more than plain hatred of government itself.”

David Mergl donated to the Archives a copy of the 2001 Times picture book “Northwest Indiana Oregionality: Sand, Steel, and Soul.” In the introduction Julia Versau wrote that a visitor to the “boomerang-shaped strip of land hugging Lake Michigan” between Chicago and Michigan City would see both “a scion of steel, its factory stacks blowing smoke rings into the sky” and “a Shangri-La of sand, each dune testimony to the region’s natural inheritance.”  The visitor, Versau continued, would, in all likelihood, “marvel at the juxtaposition: millions of grains of sand moments from the massive mills, the natural serenity of the place skin to skin with the gritty, manmade commotion of factories and machine shops.”

Catching my eye in “Oregionality” were photos of an Outlaws Motorcycle Club member and pugilist Angel Manfredy with daughter Celeste at Gary’s Police Athletic Club.  Manfredy fought four title bouts, called himself “El Diablo” (the devil), and entered the ring wearing a latex Satan mask.  After a cocaine-induced suicide attempt, Manfredy converted to Apostolic Pentacostalism.  His boxing skills subsequently deteriorated.

Thad Zale’s book about his Uncle Tony, done in collaboration with Clay Moyle, will be out by Christmas.  He describes it as about a young Polish steelworker who overcame his shyness to become a world boxing champion goes behind the scenes for a closer look at how difficult his life was outside the square circle. ‘Keep the kids off the street and in the ring’ was Tony's message.”  Some photos are from the Calumet Regional Archives.  Zale, born Anthony Florian Zaleski and nicknamed “Gary’s Man of Steel,” became world middleweight champ in 1940 but couldn’t cash in on his title for four years after Pearl Harbor due to a government ban on prizefights.  He went into the navy but refused to participate in exhibitions, claiming he only knew one way to fight – with everything he had.  Best known for a trio of bouts with Rocky Graziano, he originally was play himself in the movie “Somebody Up There Likes Me, ” (1956) but knocked out Paul Newman, playing Graziano, while sparring with him beforehand. James Dean was slated to play Graziano but died before filming.

Jerry Davich photographed St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church for his forthcoming book “Lost Gary.”    Built in 1935 near Fifteenth and Johnson, the original congregation was Carpatho-Rusyn.  Candace Alicastro recalled that her Macedonian grandmother crossed herself each time she passed the church.

I woke up in the middle of the night and turned on the SCORE.  Les Grobstein announced that Chicago State had won its first game of the season against Indiana Northwest (IUN), doubling up, 102-51, on their opponent, which he termed “a real cupcake.”  

Record low temperatures forced me to wear my winter coat prematurely; at least we have not been socked by lake effect snow like in South Bend, Grand Rapids, and the Buffalo area.  Alissa and Miranda had the day off when Grand Valley State closed down.

I bowled exactly my average and the Engineers took one game from All Mixed Up.  Chris Lugo’s son-in-law Charlie Jones said he attended the Portage girls basketball game at East Chicago the night before and enjoyed hearing Dave announce the game.  Charlie’s son is about ten, bowls Saturdays (like James) at Camelot, and better than I am. In a disastrous third game, featuring a plethora of splits and ten pins. Dick Maloney and I each had 80 in the seventh frame.  I disgustedly told Robbie, “We’re in a dogfight.”  We both marked the rest of the way and ended tied with 139s.

Juan Estrada, taking an online course on oral history from San Jose State, visited the Archives, checked out our collections, and interviewed me about how I got into oral history.  I described some of my research interests – immigrants, work experiences, Blacks and Latinos, the history of IUN, environmental causes – and ended by telling him about the importance of Anne Balay’s “Steel Closets.”

Anne sent this post: My not getting tenure was about a campus culture, yes, but it was triggered specifically by me teaching a book by Jacqueline Woodson to a Children's Lit class.  That some Jacqueline Woodson just won the National Book Award.”

I bought the $5.75 turkey meal Thursday at the Redhawk cafeteria and, because I turned done the macaroni and cornbread, received a mountain of mashed potatoes and gravy. Angie and the kids were over for a steak dinner, but I was too full to do more than pick at a few cucumber slices and consume a piece of French bread.  Obama went on TV to describe his executive actions regarding undocumented immigrants, infuriating Republicans even though Reagan and Bush took similar measures.   My attention turned to IU’s victory over No. 22 ranked SMU, coached by grizzled Larry Brown.  Hoosier freshman James Blackmon, Jr., a star (like his father before him) at Marion H.S., had 26 points.

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