Who Am I?

When the results from my ancestry.com DNA test came in, I wasn’t too surprised.  According to them, my mother is my mother and my siblings are my siblings.  I am mainly derived from English/Welsh people, with some German and Scots Irish mixed in.

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I had secretly hoped that a recessive gene would pop up that hadn’t with my brother or sisters.  We’ve been told the story that an 18th Century grandfather married a Native American, and there are those in our family who have darker complexions and near-raven hair.  But no.  The same ingredients figure into all of us in different amounts.

We had a head start on many heritage hunters, however.  Both my parents enjoyed researching their side of the family tree.  My cousin is an expert geneaologist, judging projects and hand-drawing beautiful charts of those we don’t have photographs to associate with, who lived before the invention of the daguerreotype and the bulky equipment required to produce it.

I’ve come to realize which of my dimensions could be attributed to my city boy father and country girl mother.  I just didn’t separate where they got them from, specifically the countries of their ancestors.

British traits include apologizing automatically, finding queue jumping the ultimate crime, maintaining a stiff upper lip, and being sarcastic.  Yep, I have all of those.  Welsh — on the shy side, introverted, and a bit emotionally unstable.  I don’t think I said more than two words in public until I was a junior in high school.  Oh, and I mistakenly googled Welsh Terrier traits, which include aggression toward others, digging holes, intelligence and a friendly spirit.  Those who know me can take what they want from that.

From the German side, I acquired organization, punctuality, and efficiency.  I always arranged my classroom to a T (but can anyone blame me for losing a bit of it after daily skirmishes with the kids?).

The Scots Irish connection is most interesting to me.  Historically, when British lords took over their land in Scotland, they moved to the Ulster area of Ireland.  Then en masse (150,000 to 200,000) Presbyterian Protestants emigrated to Pennsylvania in the mid 1700s.  They spread to  Appalachia, then on to Ohio, Indiana and westward.  They (we) hold to loyalty, family pride, and tradition.  And some paranoia.  You can’t be too careful, can you?

I chose not to dwell on my inherited physical characteristics, although I like that I share the my mom’s nose and my dad’s blue eyes, fair skin and light hair reminiscent of my aunts, and so forth.  That stuff changes with age anyway.  In this life, the things that matter are what you’ve got in your heart and soul.  Some are inherited; many are chosen; I hope I have chosen wisely.


General John J. Pershing, Commander in Chief of the American Expeditionary Forces


In early November 1918, General John Joseph Pershing was in France, where the armies of that country, England and Germany had been obliterating each other in a stalemate for four years.  He was an experienced soldier.  He was gifted in leading men and respected for being steady and disciplined.

Appointed head of the American Expeditiary Forces (AEF) in 1917, he’d transformed an army of 130,000 into 2,000,000 — and announced that they’d be coming over there.  As it happened, not all were shipped out, but news of the sheer size of our reinforcements probably began the end of World War 1.  France and England ran out of men and the United States had their backs.

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National Archives photo

Pershing intended for the AEF to fight in their own units instead of being amalgamated under the direction of foreign generals.  He felt the differences in language and culture would hinder their effectiveness. He was constantly organizing and training soldiers and staff in the field.  The American commander, whom President Wilson named “General of the Armies” (a title given later only to George Washington), was against the Armistice on November 11.  He wanted unconditional surrender.

Instead there was a cease-fire.  Afterwards, Pershing restructured officers’ schools, which made a difference in the leaders of the next world war.  Many who had served under him in the first would remember his example: Patton, Marshall, MacArthur.  Dedicated to honoring his soldiers for their sacrifice during the Great War, he oversaw the building of battlefield monuments across the Atlantic.

The stalwart Pershing grew up in Missouri and took an appointment to West Point to further his education.  His mother puportedly said, “But Jack, you’re not going into the Army?”

He was president of his class at the United States Military Academy, though not the cadet with the highest grade point average.  He participated in Indian campaigns, taught military procedure at the University of Nebraska, and commanded an African American unit in the Spanish-American War, for which he was nicknamed Black Jack.  He also became a lifelong friend of Theodore Roosevelt.

During the Roosevelt administration he moved up in rank rapidly.  He married and had four children, serving in the Philippine Islands.  In 1915 his happy family life was shattered  when his wife and three daughters were killed in a fire in California.  Only his son, Warren, survived.  In 1916 he took troops to Mexico to stop Pancho Villa from terrorizing the US side of the border.

Pershing asked that he be laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery with the men he was with in World War 1, and a headstone like theirs.  http://www.washingtonwalks.com

It always bothered me when I was teaching that there were more biographies for children of pop stars and football legends than of people like Pershing, who had a great impact on our nation.

Also distressing is that some question his role instead of attributing accomplishment where accomplishment is due, or even conclude the Central Powers would have lost without our help. I guess people of this generation are into revisionist history.  Of course there are many more details than I’ve presented here, so one needs to do a quite a bit of reading to begin to understand Pershing, his life and his times.  I prefer accounts made by writers closer to the generation in which he lived.  They knew.

FDR knew, too.  During World War 2 he sent a greeting to General Pershing, who was living at Walter Reed Hospital and in declining health.  “You are magnificent,” the president told him.  All of America should agree.  If they choose to take time with the facts.


Der Alte

“Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s,” Jesus said in Matthew 22.  But what do you do when Caesar is Hitler?  And before that, an unpredictable German Kaiser named Wilhelm?

It would take a remarkable man to maintain his sanity, let alone be a just leader in the middle of chaotic regimes in the country largely held responsible for both world wars.  Konrad Adenaur (1875-1967) was that.

TIME Magazine Cover: Konrad Adenauer -- Dec. 5, 1949

Adenaur served as mayor of the city of Cologne during both war eras, and as West Germany’s first chancellor in the 1950s and 60s.  When he left that post, he was 87 years old.  His nickname, “Der Alte,” means “The Elder.”

Though I was in high school the year of his death, I don’t remember studying about him.  When I to college for a teaching degree in the 80s and took a world history course,  I read his biography.  All I could think of was, “How could anyone keep going through all that?”

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Adenaur had a pleasant childhood.  He was born in the Victorian Era to civil servants.  His Roman Catholic family taught him well, and throughout his long life he was committed to his faith.

When he married, it was into a wealthy family.  He studied law, had the opportunity to vie for new political positions, had three children, and was appointed mayor of Cologne in 1917.  But not before tragedies came: his wife died and he was involved in a horrific car accident which changed his facial features permanently.

During World War 1 he managed the food supply for the city and for the troops.  After the Kaiser abdicated, he filled leadership roles of the new Weimar Republic.  At first, it seemed to be going well.  But the U.S  stock market crash’s ripple effect on Germany was disastrous.  Coal and iron mines were shut down and  printing presses made more paper money, which became worthless.

In 1933 the Enabling Act gave Adolph Hitler absolute rule over the country.  The Nazis tried to arrest Adenaur during World War 2, but he hid for many months in a monastery.  When they did put him in prison, they confiscated his leg braces.  He managed to hobble home without them at his release.

The Cologne Cathedral stands in the background of the city’s ruins after World War 2.   bartcop.com

At the top of the list of “untainted politicians,” Adenaur once again became Cologne’s mayor.  But he clashed with British military leadership and was dismissed.  The Christian Democratic Union was formed in 1946; he was elected chancellor in 1949.  By one vote.  And he held the position for the next 14 years.

During postwar reconstruction he worked to restore relations with France and the US, and the economy, balancing relations between labor and management.  In 1953 he was Time Magazine’s Man of the Year.  He’d led his country back to “moral respectability,” the editors said.

Adenauer wanted to swap West Berlin


Critics would say he opposed the reunification of Germany after it divided into East and West.  He said this was the responsibility of the government who caused the split, not his.

In a TV segment which may be viewed on YouTube, an interviewer asks Adenaur why he had become good friends with John Foster Dulles, President Eisenhower’s Secretary of State.  “He tells the truth,” was the reply.

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Cologne today as seen from the Rhine River.  thecrazytourist.com

Sometimes it is not apparent there are leaders who make decisions with integrity.  Their counterparts often get the headlines.  But throughout history, if we look, we can see some like “The Elder,” who personified persistence, through loss and hardship, to help the whole of mankind.

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Sources: history.com, weebly.com, kas.de, theneweuropean.co.uk.

Looking for the Great War


What do you remember about World War I?  Obviously you weren’t there, but what comes to mind from earlier studying or reading?  Are there stories about someone in your family who was a soldier?

A century ago Great Britain and France were in a stalemate with Germany and Austria-Hungary.  After a year’s combat, trenches zigzagged across France from Belgium to Switzerland. “No Man’s Land” waited ominously between the fences of barbed wire for men to try to break through the enemy’s line.  They were mowed down by machine guns, time after time.

The United States was officially neutral at the time, but many were involved in a preparedness campaign.  We joined the Allied Powers in April 1917.

When I looked for resources about it, I found few in comparison to those of the Civil War and World War II.  Why is that?

Probably the best recent book I’ve seen is The Last of the Doughboys by Richard Rubin (Mariner Books, 2012).  A dozen or so years ago, he searched for remaining American veterans of the “Great War”  and interviewed them.  They all had lived past the age of 100, and all had remarkable reminiscences. The result is a treasure of information uncovered in a sliver of time which is now gone.

Maybe, with the centennial of the United States’s entrance into the First World War coming up, there will be more books, articles and TV documentaries.  I know of one book, which I’m just about finished proofreading, and will be sharing some of what I’ve found here.