Thursday, May 20, 2010

147 years later- a Medal of Honor

Lt Alonzo Cushing is going to be awarded the Medal of Honor for his battery's stand at Pickett's Charge. A noble deed. His first sergeant had already been given the award, so now they have decided (after much lobbying) to approve it for Cushing.

I have a problem with this. I in no way have anything against the guy, but it opens the door to political meddling in such awards.

There was a rule that after X years you just could not qualify for a medal. Then they went back and retroactively awarded them to folks who were possibly denied medals for racial reasons. This opens the door to other retroactive awards. Like the recent move to get a MOH for Captain Winters of 506th fame just as he had been portrayed in a movie.

I guess if I had enough money I could start up a big campaign to get my dad one- drop tons of money on congressmen, make a movie about what he did, have books written, and so on.

A while back I had a conversation with one of the guys who did the basic work on the racially awarded MOH's. He had piles of names of guys who were deserving- some being turned down for being Jewish (seriously), or having drinking problems out of combat.

The most interesting one was a guy who was at first on the list as he was thought to have been Hispanic, then when the committee found out he was half Indian, they bumped him as their mandate was to only find Hispanics to award the medal to.

I encouraged him to write a book on it (and I suggested the title "close but no cigar".

No, I think it is just too dangerous to allow these after the fact awards, with the one exception being if a guy was going to have been awarded it at the time, but the paperwork really did get lost or mis-laid or something.

Friday, May 14, 2010

What have I done?

So a few weeks ago I went a tad nuts, deciding to extend my US Army combat uniform and equipment collection to the current day. In hindsight it was probably a defense mechanism to blot out the issues I was having dealing with moving my mom to an Alzheimer's unit. I had a stash of collection money in my paypal account, and I was ready to buy. I went spending my dough as if I was developing a museum collection of 'type' objects- looking for unused stuff of different patterns and versions- not ID'd groups.

But I will say I learned a lot about modern gear I had been ignoring, and acquired a fair amount of cubic square feet of 'stuff' that is somewhat cool.

And as I said I ignored the golden rule of studying first before buying. In my defense, aside from a few regulations manuals, there is really nothing much written about this stuff (post 1990 Army gear) except for helmets. So I learned by looking, asking, and digging. I'll admit the first week I made some dumb purchases. Not really bad ones, but bought extras of stuff I now know I will never really need, or be able to sell for much. I also paid a bit too much for some things. Not a lot, but I could have gotten it cheaper.

After the first week or two of almost random shotgun buying I had figured out the rough areas I needed to fill in, and what was easily available. This is when I realized that I could have done better when I started. By week two or three I had a reasonable handle on what I was looking for and began to be much more selective. And by a month I knew what were going to be the hard bits to find – which things were dogs, and which I should snap up right away if they came on the market. These were mainly items linked to the Special Operations people. Although I refuse to pay much for a Spec Ops badged uniform as I can make one up myself that cannot be told apart from a real one. I prefer generic grunt stuff myself. And for some reason it is actually harder to find.

Of course, now I tell myself that I could have taken the same money and spent it on one or two really nice things from WW1 or WW2. At times I regret that, although I honestly do not know what I would have bought that I don't already have.

Will I regret it? I'm not sure. I learned a lot and I got a few rare items that I know will just get tougher to find in the future, but I added so many more boxes to my collection that it makes it harder to move in the basement of doom.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Nothing but Praise

One of the things I often tell people who want to write on military history is to not re-invent the wheel. There is nothing I hate more than someone doing the same old book someone else has already done. This goes double for anything related to the101st AB. There are so many interesting units out there that cry out for documentation, and we are about at the last minute for getting memories for veterans.

So I give a tip of my cap … I mean… beret… to the Office of History of the Corps of Engineers. They have recently published a book called "Nothing but Praise: a History of the 1321st Engineer General Service Regiment. It is based upon the donated papers and photographs of the commanding officer. The family should be congratulated in finding such a place to give them to, as the result is a pretty good tribute to the officers and men of this little known unit.

The 3121st was a black unit with white officers in the ETO. It was one of many such generic engineer units that probably would have gone without notice had this book not been written. Spike Lee. Here's a story you could have done that would have not been such an embarrassment.

One of the things that really struck me was that unlike WW1, the WW2 general service units were pretty well equipped. In WW1 they were little more than labor battalions with pick and shovel. In the 1940's the US Army did not do anything by hand that could be done faster in a mechanized way. These guys used bulldozers, steam shovels, trucks, pneumatic hammers, rock crushers, and so on. The thing you might not get at first is this meant these guys (often poor black men from the south that had little chance for education) were suddenly given training on how to operate and maintain these things. They learned valuable skills that would transfer directly into civilian like (note Mauldin's "You're lucky, you're learning a trade").

I don't think anyone has really looked at what kind of impact this training, which probably would have never been within the grasp of many of these men, had after the war. At the very least I would like to see a survey of the jobs and skills listed for these men upon induction, and then when they were discharged. Perhaps there is a way to see how many of them went into a similar field in civilian life (Maybe check obituaries?). Here's a readymade thesis or dissertation topic for you (or a really cool book).

As for this one my main complaint it that is it too short. It's a small format softcover much like the local history books we see nowadays. The photos are great, and there is a hint here are many, many more that could have been shown. A negative point is they "design" the book a bit too much to include things like a photo of a compass, when I would prefer to see another photo of one of the men. Even if they decided not to add in more text (and I would suggest a capsule mention of all the similar units at the end, or a good T/O&E) they could have just made the pages larger and thus made the photos bigger. Of course, this is just what I would wish, and if wishes were horses we'd all be eating steak.

So I'm quite pleased that the engineer folks did this book. Especially Michael J. Broadhead who edited the work. It is things like this that make it worthwhile donating material to government organizations. For sale from the USGPO, but also at Amazon: Nothing but Praise, by Aldo H. Bagnulo, Government Printing Office, 2009, 978-0-16-083672-5.

It is a $12 book, and it can be found on

But you can download a free copy of it at the Corps of Engineers website. It did take me a while to actually find the durn thing, so here you go.

For more info on the book:


Sunday, May 02, 2010

An odd conversation

I had an odd conversation with a collector the other day. He was being somewhat dismissive of books on the US Army written by non-Americans. In fact he was very much of the 'if it wasn't done here, it can't be any good' style of thinking.

Now probably most of my published writing has not been done in the USA, so I kind of took exception to this, and had it pointed out that my stuff is OK because I AM an American. But that people without a close tie to America can't really get into the skin of an American soldier. He's not really prejudiced as you might think. He made very good points about non Americans not having good access to archives and libraries. That they would have a harder time talking to veterans and such, and that they may have been put somewhat off the track by having been in a different Army.

Now knowing he also collected German stuff I had to steer the conversation around to what books he likes for German info. And … tada! … all he mentioned books written by Americans and published in America. So I pointed out that by his thinking all he should read are books on the German army written by Germans.

"That's different; You can't print some of this stuff in Germany so it has to be done here."

So I countered then with any eastern front books should be written by Russians. That, he said, would be ridiculous as everyone knows the Russians have been fed so much propaganda nothing they do is not biased.

And I finally decided to shift the conversation to something else knowing I would not ever get anywhere.

But it is interesting that us Americans do seem to think we "own" our own Army's story, and no one else can tell it. I know I do get a bit irritated when British books use British terms or abbreviations for American military ones. I think an American Rifle company should be abbreviated Co. instead of Coy. That's my own pet peeve.

Certainly, I think it is much harder for someone from, say, Belgium, to write on an American topic. But this means he must be really, really keen on doing, and therefore may put a lot of extra work into it. There's also something to having a totally fresh set of eyes so that someone (like a famous Marine) does not assume that since it was done some way in his day, the same must be true for 10 years before him.

In the end it's up to the work itself to stand the test of people who really know the field. They need to look at it and see if it is well done or not. Certainly we know publishers no longer do this.