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.

Image result for john pershing with his men in ww1

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.

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?”

Image result for konrad adenauer

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.

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.

Image result for cologne germany

Cologne today as seen from the Rhine River.

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.

^         ^          ^          ^


Uncle Leo

I grew up with the knowledge that my great uncle died in World War 1.  My dad was born in 1924,  so he’d never met him.

But Dad did, over the years, add some details about Leo Ross Porter’s life to our written family history.   Never married, Uncle Leo was a political cartoonist for the Lansing State Journal before joining up.  He had attended art school and traveled some in the west, away from his small Indiana hometown.  He trained as a soldier in Camp Graying, Michigan.

No automatic alt text available.

We had a copy of a letter he wrote to his brother, my grandfather, from France.  It gave a snapshot of a 29 year-old American observing a little air fighting while drawing maps for his commanders, near a stream in the green countryside.  He inquired about the folks on the farm.  He surmised it was about time for cherries to be ripe back home.

The next page in the family history is his obituary from the Steuben Republican.  He’d been gassed on August 12, 1918 and died two days later.  Leo’s body was sent back to Angola for burial in Circle Hill Cemetery.  Also returned were his footlocker and a violin from the trench he was in, which still remain in the family.

The newspaper said that as a boy he spent hours observing nature, and  “always liked birds and animals…they seemed to know him as a friend.  Soon after he enlisted in the army, he made his last visit home.  While here he told his mother that he knew she would want him to do his duty and he did not want it to be said of him that he was a coward.”

One of Leo’s cartoons in the Lansing State Journal, 1917

According to a letter written by Colonel Chester B. McCormick on board the ship returning to America, Uncle Leo’s unit  spent five months in continuous combat.  The 199th Artillery joined another division in the Second Battle of the Marne in July, helping capture the city of Fismes (ironically, just west of Metz, the name of the Indiana village where Leo was born).

When I recently transcribed some of my mother’s family letters, I found one written by an aunt in September 1918.  “Leo Porter, John Porter’s boy, was wounded in action August 12 and died August 14.  The word came here the other day.  Mr. and Mrs. Porter are sure doing their bit.  They have another son in the army and another that will soon go.”

I was interested to know that my mother’s and father’s side of the family were acquainted before the two of them were ever born.  And it gave me another perspective on Leo’s death, which was an exception to the rule:  influenza, not combat, was responsible for most deaths of troops from our county.

Last time I posted about the hundredth anniversary of the death of Quentin Roosevelt, the president’s son.  I write now of another soldier who died close by a month later,  a farmer’s son.  They were different but the same.  They both did what they thought was right.  We honor their ultimate sacrifice a century later.





Losing Quentin

One hundred years ago today in France, an American first lieutenant died in a dogfight.   He was just twenty years old and had been trying hard to pilot his plane into the action of World War 1.  On July 14, 1918, close to the village of Chamery, he did.

Vive Quentin Roosevelt!

He was Theodore and Edith Roosevelt’s son, Quentin.  The youngest of six children, he was said to have been the one most like his father.   They shared the same vitality, originality and sense of humor, according to author Hermann Hagedorn.   Born just before the Spanish-American War, Quentin Roosevelt spent much of his boyhood in Washington.

Quentin’s antics with his friends in the executive mansion were later described in a book called The White House Gang.   They played hide-and-seek in the attic.  They re-enacted famous military battles in unused rooms.  They made faces at the president in his carriage, and threw spitballs at Andrew Jackson’s portrait.  TR joined in many of these (not the spitball episode, though; the “trial” for which he presided over).

Image result for quentin roosevelt as a boy

“Quentikins” was three when his father became president and almost twelve when he left.  He attended public school but sometimes his teacher didn’t know what to do with him, as a letter from TR to her reveals.  Charlie Taft, son of the secretary of war and the next president, was his best friend.

His mother called him her “fine little bad boy.”  In the summers on Long Island he competed with his older brothers Ted, Kermit, and Archie, joining in their recklessness.  He loved repairing mechanical things, especially motorcycles.  He was a New York Yankees fan.  And he completed his first year at Harvard before joining the Army Air Corps.

Image result for quentin and flora

Before leaving for France, Quentin asked Flora Payne Whitney, of the Vanderbilt family, to marry him.  She wanted desperately to join him there but was refused permission from the Wilson administration.

He and his fiancé wrote many tender letters across the ocean.  “Fouf,” he called her.

Prayer Booklet and Photo

Image result for quentin roosevelt and plane

In his French Nieuport 28 decorated with newspaper comic strip character “Doc Yak” he downed an enemy plane on July 10, and subsequently wrote the news to his parents.  Four mornings later he went up again behind German lines.  A member of his squadron saw a plane shot down, but because of the fog did not realize it was Quentin’s until after he landed.

Theodore and Edith continued receiving letters their son had written before he died.  They requested that he remain buried where he fell, in the place German officers conducted an honor ceremony.  A fence was built around the grave which which stood for many years, creating a pilgrimage opportunity for soldiers and French citizens alike.

His mother had a memorial fountain and stone marker made for the site, which she visited later.  Not so for his father, who died six  months after Quentin, partly from a broken heart.  Flora, who was devastated, eventually married and took over leadership of the Whitney Museum of Modern Art in New York founded by her mother.

Related image

In the 1950s, the family requested that Quentin’s body be moved to the American cemetery in Normandy adjoining his brother, Ted, who suffered a heart attack in the Second World War.  Ted, a general, had been the oldest soldier on Utah Beach in the invasion.

In late 1918 the name Quentin Roosevelt II had been given to Ted’s newborn son.  He would also tragically die in a plane crash, over Hong Kong in 1948.  He had had a family  —  one of his daughters, Susan, married former Massachusetts governor William Weld.  One of their sons is named Quentin, while several other members of the Roosevelt family have been given Quentin for a middle name.

Losing Quentin is still hard to read about a century later.  The “big, bright boy” will always be so in our memories.  Who knows where his career might have led, or what his family-to-be might have accomplished?  The same may be asked of the other sixteen million military personnel and civilians who lost their lives in the Great War.

~    ~    ~

Recommended reading: Quentin and Flora by Chip Bishop, CreateSpace Publishing, 2014.  I met this author at a gathering of the Theodore Roosevelt Association before his untimely death.  It is a masterful book.  Chip was the great-nephew of Joseph Buckland Bishop, whom Theodore Roosevelt authorized to write his biography.





War Chest

I’m not going to touch on the obvious cost of going to war: human lives.  As we were reminded last weekend, the sacrifice of those who die or are physically disabled in service to their country is immeasurable.  But it is interesting to look at the ways we have drummed up money to pay for our battles  – something I discovered when reading my grandparents’ letters about common folks selling bonds in 1918.

My great-uncle Guy had firsthand experience with those bonds.  “Scott Township has to raise $8,000 in the next few days,” he reported to his brother Jesse in June 1918.  “We have a few slackers whom we haven’t been able to collect from…I got $2 cash from —— and I pumped him for more till he pledged $3.  The next day I heard he said, ‘That Guy Covell is a damned hog …'”

It was the third of four separate World War 1 bond drives.  The strategy of William McAdoo, who was in charge, was to raise support by having patriotic rallies across the country.  My grandmother, at the time teaching in a one-room schoolhouse in a different county, wrote that someone there was planning a ride like Paul Revere’s to attract attention, but it didn’t happen.  She sold bonds to country neighbors, taking homemade cookies along to sweeten the deal.

Bank employees did not sell certificates for the Liberty Loan, so there were no commissions.  People thought it was their duty to raise the money.  And that they did — seventeen billion dollars worth, over half for $50.  Even those were monumental to the average worker who made 35 cents an hour.  But they could buy stamps for 25 cents each, paste them on a special card, and when they had enough cards filled could trade them for the lowest denomination.

The mass media of that time included posters to urge the Liberty Loan, foodconservation and soldier enlistment.  Today we marvel at their Art Nouveau style and vivid colors, at the same time realizing the sobering scope of the work of George Creel and his propaganda committee.

Over 125 years before, the American Revolution was funded with  loans from France and the Netherlands, and private loans from a few individuals.  Each colony was ultimately asked to equip its own soldiers.  The Continental Congress printed a lot of paper money, backed up by nothing, which Mercy Otis Warren called “immense heaps of paper trash.”   Consequently inflation rose to 30 per cent in 1783.

See the source image

The new Constitution gave the federal government power to regulate trade and commerce, print common currency, and have Congress tax citizens.  Until the peace treaty was signed, however, soldiers were given IOUs for back pay.  That was a pretty unpopular decision.  Alexander Hamilton got his way with the idea for the federal banking system, later losing his life in a duel surely connected to his spin on financial policy.

When the Civil War inevitably came, both sides doubted it would last long and didn’t plan to raise many taxes for their expense.  Instead, the Union printed “greenbacks,” doubling the North’s paper money supply.  A man named Jay Cooke engineered the “New National Banking System” in 1863, which favored large banks over small ones (It wasn’t a permanent benefit for him, though, as he went bankrupt in 1873) .

Image result for confederate bills

In 1861 this note was worth $90; in 1865, $17.

The Confederates printed their own paper money, too — to the tune of twenty times their supply.  You can see where this was going.  A dollar bill worth 90 cents at the beginning of the war shrank to 17 cents at the end.  They also tried selling “cotton bonds” to the British.  And then there are legends about gold from England hidden in the western United States, which was intended to help the South win the war.

During World War 2, the withholding tax was introduced and $186 billion in bonds sold.  The GI Bill compensated soldiers by providing education and job training (My dad took advantage of this program and earned a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering.  He was the first one from whom I heard that war could be good for the economy, and that times of recession could be good for education because unemployed people go back to school).

Costs of the Korean War took 15 per cent of the GDP (gross domestic product); Viet Nam 10 per cent and Iraq 1 per cent.  Pork barrel spending for the military keeps making increases to the national debt.  There is also the matter of veterans’ pensions.   The current generation continues to pay the debt for wars begun and fought before they were born; George Washington put it this way: “throwing on posterity the costs we ought to bear.”

And then  I remembered one more thing: what the colonists were so mad about in the first place.  England put the Stamp Tax on them to help pay for the French and Indian War.

Sources:,,,, Wikipedia,, letters of Jesse O. Covell and Margaret E. Beck.  Contact me if you’d like to hear more about their story, Folks on the Home Front.


The Spirit of ’18

Spirit of '76.jpg

A wildly popular painting by Archibald Willard of Ohio was displayed at the Philadelphia Exposition of 1876.  The work was ignored by art critics but loved by the people, and sent on a coast-to coast tour after the exposition was over.

Renamed The Spirit of ’76, it was originally called Yankee Doodle.  Models for the Revolutionary War soldiers of one hundred years before included a schoolboy, Willard’s father, and a local farmer who was a fifer in the Civil War.  The artist had also served in the infantry during The War Between the States.

An unknown poster designer reincarnated Willard’s work into The Spirit of ’18 above.  Three generations were once again marching in a frame, but the tricorn was replaced with a straw hat, and the instruments with bushels of wheat.  Media boss George Kreel enlisted “minute men” to give testimonies in front of crowds, in addition to commissioning hundreds of posters to promote the United States’ involvement in the The Great War.  Some, like this one, were drumming up support for feeding the Allied troops across the sea (no pun intended). 

The Spirit of ’76 canvas is displayed proudly in the town of Marblehead, Massachusetts, one of whose prominent citizens purchased it after its debut in Philadelphia.

The Spirit of ’18 posters are scattered in library and private collections nationwide, with one presently featured in a fascinating display in the Special Collections section of the Indianapolis Public Library.  With it is information about the U.S. Food Administration headed by Herbert Hoover.  There are more posters included, with canning jars and recipes from a contest a century ago intended to stir up more enthusiasm (I didn’t mean that pun, either).

What is the Spirit of ’18 for us this year?  January is not over yet; there are twelve months ahead.  Reputable organizations such as Food for the Hungry and Compassion International help us provide food for impoverished young people.  We can support those in our country who are trying their best to help others. We can volunteer with children or adults, with the knowledge that small actions have big results.  We can conserve food and other natural resources.

And remember that not doing anything is a choice.


Information used above was provided by,,,, and

Do you like the new look of AmazingBirdCollection?  I changed the WordPress “theme” to one with easier access to past blogs.  Just click the backward arrow beneath the title to catch up on them.  The head photo is one of Theodore Roosevelt’s bookcases at his home, Sagamore Hill, an appropriate symbol for how I got started writing books and blogging.












Poster Children


Image result for world war 1

President Wilson’s Committee on Public Information for promoting America’s role in World War 1 was headed by George Creel, a Missouri newspaperman, who directed its 37 different divisions.  One of these, “Pictoral Publicity,” produced more than 1,000 designs for posters, cartoons and sculptures that are left for us to ponder a century later.

Image result for world war 1 posters with children

A wide variety of artists worked on the posters, many of which are stunning examples of Art Nouveau.  Hues of varying shade and intensity jump from the paper, advertising the draft, bond drives, rationing and victory gardens.

Related image

There are so many, I chose to look at some with children as their subjects.  The colors used here are soft and happy.  Messages are lighter than the rest: help Uncle Sam (whose image was just making its debut) win, ask your daddy to buy war bonds, or help our daddy “over there” by doing the same.

Image result for world war 1 posters with children

What can we learn from this artwork, emphemera of history?  Certainly the design of these and more stark examples can be studied and even admired.  But the real lesson is in their intent.  Americans must do their duty.  Americans must help.  War is necessary for the good of all.

By using childish images to persuade adults, and making appeals to the youngest of audiences, did Creel cross the line?

The children of 1917 are gone.  Their children are almost gone.  The number and kinds of media which target today’s kids have exploded.  It takes even more care now to protect young minds from things on which adults have trouble making up their own.

A grave task it is, educating others about the ploys of mass media.








The Summer Before the War

Polished reviews I saw online for The Summer Before the War, Helen Simonson’s second novel (Random House 2016), did not wholly mesh with what I was thinking when I put it down.  If I had based my decision to read the hefty 450+ page work of historical fiction about 1914 England on what they said, I may have opened it later than sooner.  It’s a good thing my sister gave me a hardback copy for my birthday.

Image result for the summer before the war

The war is World War I, of course, then known as The Great War.  A young Latin teacher named Beatrice Nash leaves the clutches of her extended family to take a job in the small town of Rye in East Sussex.  Because an aunt controls the trust left by her father, it has been next to impossible for the 23 year-old unmarried woman to live on her own.

Beatrice does break away, riding by rail to Rye.  She is up against human walls on several sides: the mayor (and his farcical wife), the landlady, the town gossips, and the barrister who would take a percentage of her small income for himself.  But her savior is Agatha Kent, a middle-aged woman who had pushed for her hiring.

Another protagonist of the story is Agatha’s nephew, Hugh, a young doctor; among several antagonists is a nobleman who blames the death of his son on Agatha’s other nephew, poet Daniel.

I suppose it was to engage more readers that reviewers of The Summer Before the War invoked the memory of small and large screens for comparison: Downton Abbey (at least three) and Star Wars (!) (one).  This is an injustice to the printed page.  Readers do not need wardrobe departments or special effects men to make them want to know about the world of the past.  They count on authors like Simonson to draw them to it.

We do agree that Simonson’s exquisitely orchestrated word pictures equal those in her first book, Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, also set in her homeland but in modern times (She now lives in Manhattan).  “The Wheaton’s garden could not be anything but a felicitous scene: the emerald of the lawn, the rightly pitched white marquee heads of summer flowers, nodding above the ladies’ linen and cotton dresses.  The uniformed servants, a small navy, ferried trays of sandwiches and buckets of ice across a green sea…”

Most social remarks made by the critics about this book touched on discrimination of women of the time and a public oblivious to the horrors of modern warfare just ahead.  “‘I avoid the papers altogether,’ said Daniel.  ‘I’m pretty sure wars would be shorter if we weren’t eager to read about them.'”

But nobody mentions the father/daughter relationships key to the plot.  Poignant but pathetic, it was/is often the way love is shown.  I can’t understand it, having had a pretty fair-minded dad, but I know it exists.  Beatrice’s father thought the best way to help her was by leaving older family members to control her inheritance, even though she capably took care of him in his last years.  A Belgian refugee professor treats his young daughter with tenderness but abandons her at the worst possible time to save his university’s books.  Mr. Tillingham, a character suggestive of Henry James and supposed surrogate father to both, is ultimately concerned most with his own writing.

Another very interesting part of the tale is the presence of the Romanies, commonly known as gypsies.  From reading about the Edwardian Period in Indiana I also found news articles about these mysterious people.  “In a small clearing, two lean dogs emerged barking from under a dark wooden caravan with a black tar roof.  A shaggy horse tethered to a long rope looked sideways from one large eye but did not bother to take his mouth from the long grass.  The old woman sitting on the caravan steps was as wizened as a dried apple and, though the day was hot, was wrapped in several shawls.”

The gypsy lady, an unlikely friend of prominent citizen Agatha, has a main role along with her great-grandson, a bright boy whom Beatrice tutors before school begins.  The injustices he suffers are unnerving, tragic and catastrophic to the future of the town.  The irony is that few people realize what he could have become and done for them.  Doctor?  Barrister?  Scientist?  Author?  They will never know.

I appreciate Simonson’s notes about her research at the end of the novel.  She was raised in the places she describes, so knows how to relay feelings her characters would have had and expressed.  She read actual copies of hundred year-old newspapers; shortly afterward these were morphed into microfiche.

“Microfiche and searchable digital content cannot replace the thrill and serendipity of reading a full newspaper just as my characters would have done…”  I feel the same way.

The sting of this year’s election lingers with those who know women are on an equal plane with men to lead, govern, and plan for the future.  Beatrice’s summer before the war a century ago is a harbinger of the same.



Thanksgiving in Training Camp

It was a menu much like one we’ll all have this week.  Cooks in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, were serving up roast turkey, mashed potatoes, celery, pickles, and pie.  But the soldiers on the other side of the table 98 years ago were wondering where they would celebrate the next holiday, or if they’d still be alive, after going across the pond to help the Allies in battle.

One troop, my grandfather, wrote to his sweetheart from Camp Shelby.  Besides a quick review of the food, he told her of horseback training, officer’s school, and a football game he and his buddies had been to that afternoon between the teams of Indiana University and Army.  It was “hard-fought from start to finish.”



The 25-year old captain would write often and receive many more letters himself at the southern town, so different from his Indiana farm home.  He traveled to Fort Sill, Oklahoma for artillery school; and Camp Mills, Long Island, with his division, bound for France.  But then, to his disappointment, he was called back to Mississippi to help train a development battalion.


After the war’s end he mustered out of the army, returning to the life of a farmer, married his sweetheart, and raised a family.  Today he would be proud of his grandson who graduated from West Point, and great-grandson who finished four tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Let us all be thankful for each soldier, retired, in training, or in active duty, who represents America on our behalf.