There’s an old adage: history is written by the winner(s). While that may be true of battles and warfare, it completely misses the mark about history itself.

History (dictionary.com): noun

  1. Branch of knowledge dealing with past events; 2. Continuous, systematic narrative of past events as relating to a particular people, country, period, person, etc., usually written as a chronological account; 3. Aggregate of past events.

As such, history is not a simple, one-size-fits-all politically or culturally expedient view of the world. It is, in fact, a systematic narrative of past events, with comprehensive understanding of all contributing aspects to that story. Passage of time is a necessary component of history. How can we understand history or historical events unless sufficient time has passed? Context is essential to understanding history.

Another old adage: Those who do not understand history are doomed to repeat it.  History, if we allow it, speaks to human nature; a really wide-angle view of the history of mankind reveals cyclical behaviors that haven’t changed much over the millennia.

I’ve been thinking about Walls lately, for obvious reasons. I will not engage in the politics of our current events in this forum, but I’d like to take a quick look at two historically important and well-known walls. There is no detailed written account of why either of these wall was built. History fills in the gaps of “why,” once we look at context.

HADRIAN’S WALL:  Construction began around A.D. 120, under Emperor Hadrian.  It was 80 (Roman) miles long, stretching coast to coast (east to west) “to separate the Romans from the barbarians.” Theories of why it was built include military fortification as well as checkpoints for trade and taxation. Hadrian died in 138, and the new emperor began construction of a new wall (Antoine Wall) a hundred miles north in the vicinity of Edinburg and the Forth of Fifth. It was 40 (Roman) miles and was heavily fortified against those pesky Northern Tribes. Unable to conquer the Celts, Antoine Wall was abandoned and garrisons fell back and Rome refortified Hadrian’s Wall.  By 410, Rome abandoned Britain.  Sections of the wall still stand today. It was declared a World Heritage Site in 1987.   After 3 centuries, the Romans were gone. The walls failed to “keep the barbarians out.”  Whole sections of stones from Hadrian’s Wall were plundered during the 18th century to build military roads to quash insurrections. England still stands, much of the wall still stands.

THE GREAT WALL OF CHINA: Construction of what was to become the Great Wall started as early as the 7th century B.C.E. It was added to, modified and shored up throughout Chinese history, reaching its current state by the early 1600’s. “Apart from defense, other purposes of the Great Wall have included border controls, allowing the imposition of duties on goods transported along the Silk Road, regulation or encouragement of trade and the control of immigration and emigration. . .    The Great Wall helped defend the empire against the Manchu invasions that began around 1600. Even after the loss of all of Liaodong, the Ming army held the heavily fortified Shanhai Pass, preventing the Manchus from conquering the Chinese heartland. The Manchus were finally able to cross the Great Wall in 1644, after Beijing had already fallen to Li Zicheng‘s rebels. Before this time, the Manchus had crossed the Great Wall multiple times to raid, but this time it was for conquest. The gates at Shanhai Pass were opened on May 25 by the commanding Ming general, Wu Sangui, who formed an alliance with the Manchus, hoping to use the Manchus to expel the rebels from Beijing.[35] The Manchus quickly seized Beijing, and eventually defeated both the rebel-founded Shun dynasty and the remaining Ming resistance, establishing the Qing dynasty rule over all of China.[36] Wikipedia.

Two and a half millennia later, sections of the Great Wall (also a World heritage Site) still stand. China still stands, it’s history modified of course by centuries of invasions. Like Hadrian’s its dual purpose was military and taxation, as well as controlling immigration and emigration.

Walls are interesting things. If you’re on the outside looking in, they keep you out. If you’re on the inside looking out, they keep you in.


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Yesterday I got a phone call from Pat Fedele.  We played phone tag for a couple of days, so when the call came through, I was expecting it.  He was sitting in his car, waiting for his beloved wife Sandi while she ran an errand.  There are no quick calls with Pat.  We covered a lot of territory.  About a half an hour in, the almost-95-year-old tenor belted out one of his favorites  –  Frank Sinatra’s Fly Me to the Moon.  Full voice.  No breaks, no missed words, no wavering voice.  Naturally, I was mesmerized.  I knew a song was coming, but, did I have the presence of mind to hit  “record” on my phone?  ‘Course not.

I do, however, have a cd of songs he made as a present for his doctor 6 or 7 years ago, which he gave me.  I can’t give you the Fly Me to the Moon he sang me, but I can give you another of his Sinatra favs: I’ve Got the World on a String:

As I listened, I imagined someone walking by Pat’s car, seeing this old man, head thrown back, belting out Fly Me to the Moon, wondering what that was all about.  An unusual thing, to be sure.  They didn’t see me, on the other end of the phone, smiling and grateful I can call this wonderful man my friend.



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Dec. 19 & 20, 1944


(Cobra track, 12-18-44, USS Yorktown.  Retrieved from USS Boston folders, National Archives, by Bill Kelly.)

December 19, 1944:  This morning we met with the tankers and refueled, a couple of DE’s are also missing.  After fueling we started looking for survivors.  The smaller ships are picking up survivors.

December 20, 1944:  This morning we are back in the area where the ships were lost.  The carriers are launching planes for an extensive search of the area.  This morning one of the planes from the Yorktown reported sighting three destroyers about 80 miles south of us.  Two of the destroyers are dead in the water and the other is making about 5 knots.  Another destroyer has been reported lost, the Monaghan.  Planes continue to search the area. Tonight we are heading back to Luzon for a one day strike, before going back to portDuring the night, orders were cancelled, on account of bad weather, the typhoon is just ahead of us.  We are heading back to Ulithi, we will be in port for Christmas.   Frank Studenski.

On December 18, the USS Spence (DD-512), took a 72° roll, capsized and sank.  Only 24 men survived.  The USS Hull (DD-350), took a 70° roll and sank.  Seven officers and 55 bluejackets survived.  The USS Monaghan (DD-354), took roll after roll to starboard and sank.  Only six men survived.   In all, 790 men of the Fleet lost their lives in that typhoon, mostly men aboard the three ill-fated destroyers.


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Dec. 18, 1944


On the 15th and 16th, the ships of TF38 were supporting the landing at Mindoro.  Planes continued to attack Luzon and Mindoro, bagging some 400 enemy planes over three days.  The 17th was a scheduled re-fuel day, so the ships traveled east to meet up with the tankers of TF30.  The weather was getting worse by the hour, and the ships were running into a developing typhoon.  Fueling was called off.

December 18, 1944:   This morning the weather is really bad.  Some of the detroyers are low on fuel and the sea is so bad they can not fuel from tankers.  The CVE’s are having a lot of problems, planes are breaking loose in the hangar deck and starting fires.  The carrier Independence reported two men overboard. The carrier Monterey has a fire in her hanger deck and can only make five knots.  The sea looks like mountains, no one can walk straight. Quite a few men were hurt by the rolling of the ship.  Sandwiches and coffee were served for dinner and supper.  We made a roll of 46 degrees, which is past the danger point.  We lost one of our planes over the side from the force of the wind.  No one is allowed on the main deck, it is under water every time we roll. the battleship Massachusetts is dead in the water.  The wind picked up with gusts of 93 knots.  Some of the destroyers report they are inn danger of capsizing.  Besides the loss of one plane, we also have 20MM gun tub damage.  We were pretty lucky.  The height of the waves must be 30 to 40 feet.  About 35 men were washed over the side, most of them from carriers.  We received some bad news, two destroyers were lost in the storm, Spence and Hull, two other destroyers are missing, some survivors were picked up, the winds picked up by late afternoon to over 100 knots.  The sea is a little calmer and by 2400 hours the winds died down.  I did not get to sleep tonight.  I want to stay awake in case the ship rolls over.   Frank Studenski

They eye of Typhoon Cobra (12/18/44) captured on the radar screen of the carrier USS Yorktown

(Retrieved from the USS Boston folders at the National Archives by Bill)


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12/7, 12/8


December 7, 1943:  Today is the second anniversary of the Pearl Harbor Attack and this is our second day in Pearl.  We are tied-up alongside the sunken Arizona.  Tomorrow we will have our first liberty.  We will be going out every week for three or four days of practice firing.

December 8, 1943:  Today I had my first liberty in Honolulu and it is full of Sailors.  The area is one large military installation and civilians work around the clock.  The trip to Honolulu is by liberty boat from the ship to the Navy yard, through the main gate at the yard to the railroad station.  The train is a narrow gauge train and is packed with Sailors.  The train travels through pineapple and sugarcane fields.  The military installations are quonset huts and tents.  The trip to Honolulu is under one hour.  Liberty  is two days off and one day on. Wikikaki [sic] Beach is beautiful with great sandy beaches and having drinks at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel and drinking beer at the breakers.  Frank Studenski

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