All tagged history

If you want to send somebody “back,” you need to ask, “Back to what?” The next volume of my series, Once Upon a Time in the Texas Panhandle, is entitled, Colleen and the Statue. In the first chapter, teenaged Colleen is about to leave Ireland. In the second chapter, she is in Mackenzie, Texas—my invented town. It’s the 1950s, and she’s a young and single Irish Catholic—a religious and ethnic minority. She often hears Protestant “Anglos” whispering, “Why doesn’t she go back? We should send her back. We don’t need her kind here.”

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In recent times, starting in the mid-1920s and the 1930s, white supremacist groups, such as the modern KKK, have claimed the statues as their own—as heroic defenders of the white race. The original meaning has been co-opted, so that now—today—in the first decades of the Twenty-First Century, long after the last Confederate veteran has died, and after almost all the children of Confederate soldiers have passed away, the racists, the white supremacists, Aryan Nation members, neo-Nazis, neo-KKK members, and the like, have made the statues of the Confederate soldier into symbols of the so-called “movement” to defend and preserve the white race.

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Seventy-five years ago—on January 25, 1944—Army Air Forces 2nd Lt. Toney W. Gochnauer of Amarillo, Texas, disappeared. At the time twenty-four-years-old, he was co-pilot of a B24J Liberator bomber, which had departed from Kunming, China on a supply mission over the Himalayas to Chabau, India. The aircraft, with its crew of eight and four passengers, failed to arrive. On January 26, 1946, the lieutenant was declared, “Dead while Missing.” On May 13, 2019, his remains, which were found in wreckage near a rural village in eastern India, were identified, and he was declared, “Accounted For.”

It is inconceivable to me that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott would do what California Gov. Gavin Newsom just did: issue by executive order an official apology on behalf of the citizens of California for a history of “violence, maltreatment and neglect” against Native Americans. (Los Angeles Times, June 19, 2019.) It is also inconceivable to me that the Amarillo Globe-News would do what the Los Angeles Times just did: publish an editorial challenging the City Council to likewise issue an apology for its complicity in the genocide to which Gov. Newsom refers in the text of his apology. (Los Angeles Times, June 21, 2019.)

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The first chapter of my latest novel, Nadya: The Restoration of a Flying Tiger, is autobiographical. The little boy, “Jimmy Dade,” is me. The man, “Howie Hill,” is one of the Smyer brothers—embarrassingly I don’t remember his first name … maybe “Paul.” I remember so well the day I met him. It was the first time I realized what war does to a warrior. Like Chennault, he was a hero, but no book has been written about him, and he hasn’t even merited a footnote. As far as I know, no one in Amarillo remembers him or knows anything about him. His mother, his father and his brothers are long deceased. The Air Force undoubtedly didn’t know that he had died and so it furnished no marker for his grave, wherever it might be. Again embarrassingly, I forgot to put “Flying Tiger Smyer” in my novel’s Acknowledgements, even though he was the reason I wrote the book.

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It seems that most people don’t ask themselves, “Who am I?” Most people know who their parents are—and their grandparents and even their eight great-grandparents. So it seems that they’re sure of their ethnicity, religion and nationality. So it seems if you ask most people whether they know who they are, they’ll suppose it’s a trick question, and they’ll answer you unabashedly, “Sure, yes—of course I know who I am!”  But some people are not so sure.

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“[Good-bye] to officers who put ‘duty’ above ‘ethics,’ and to the troops who regularly complained that the Army’s Rules of Engagement were too strict—as if more brutality, bombing and firepower (with less concern for civilians) would have brought victory instead of stalemate.”

Words of Major Danny Sjursen, West Point graduate, who retired in 2018, after 18 years in the Army and 11 deployments, often to war zones. Words very unusual for a multi-medalist soldier who was teaching history at West Point. He had become a disillusioned pacifist after what he saw in his deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan—and he gave up his once-promising career, in order to speak out.

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I have determined that one of my coming novels in the series, Once Upon a Time in the Texas Panhandle, will deal with the issue of whether to remove the Confederate statue from the central park of my fictitious city of Mackenzie, which is modeled after Amarillo. At present, there is an absolutely incredible number of such monuments, which are scattered throughout the former Confederate states. The central theme of my novel will be: Is it right to honor a soldier who served in the wrong army? That is, even if the soldiers of the Confederate States of America were heroes and valiant soldiers, were they mistaken in fighting for what became known as the “Lost Cause”?

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            My novels come from my experience growing up in the Texas Panhandle in the 1940s, 50s, and early 60s. This was during and after World War II, during and after the Korean War, before the Civil Rights Movement, and before Vietnam.

            When I was growing up, there were two underlying cultural influences in Texas: the Alamo and Appomattox—the memory of the War with Mexico, and the memory of the War Between the States (the American Civil War).

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