HISTORY OF D-DAY
Why has D-Day captured the imagination of American consciousness for three-quarters of a century? On Twitter, the hashtag is #DDay77
Seventy-seven years ago, on June 6, 1944, the Allies launched an offensive on the Normandy coast of France to liberate continental Europe from the Nazi German occupation.
D-Day was the largest invasion by sea in all of history, literally turning the tide. It was the beginning of the end of the War. General Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of Allied Forces, sent the troops out that day:
“You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty, and skill in battle.”
Progress of D-Day Campaign
Within two months, the 77-day Normandy campaign led to the liberation of France and, in less than a year, to the defeat of the Nazi forces and the end of World War II in Europe. Between these two events, my father visited Paris while his US Army division was moving through France toward the Battle of the Bulge and the liberation of the Dachau concentration camp in Germany.
HISTORY OF JUNE
June represents the halfway point of the year, being the sixth of the twelve months of both the Gregorian calendar — which we use currently in the West — and also the earlier Julian calendar, named for Julius Caesar, the namesake of July. Where do we get the name for June?
What’s In A Name?
Ovid, author of that bi-millennial best-selling magnum opus “Metamorphoses” — where he takes the stories of the Greek myths and gives them Roman names — suggests two possible etymologies.
- The first and more likely origin is the Roman goddess Juno, wife of Jupiter, who was referred to as Hera by the Greeks. She is the patroness of marriages, and most marriages happen during June. It was considered good luck to get married during June, though the good weather and school vacation could have something to do with it now.
- Ovid also suggested that the month was named for Iuniores, Latin for “young people,” in the same way that May is named for “elders” or Maiores. And as we all recall from “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,” there was no J in Latin in the 1st century.
HISTORY OF MEMORIAL DAY: WHICH WAR?
Memorial Day was not universally recognized as a shared American Holiday until after World War I. But that’s not how it started in the United States.
When did it begin?
Civil War and Memorial Day
Following the American Civil War or the “War Between the States,” as it was known in the South, various locations began decorating the graves of fallen soldiers with flowers and flags, as I’ve written previously. This began in the mid to late 1860s across the country, as almost every community had been touched by loss from the country-wide conflagration. Over 600,000 men and women had died, more than any war that Americans were involved in, including the combined losses suffered in WWI and WWII — because we were both sides of the Civil War.
HISTORY OF THE GOLDEN GATE BRIDGE
This week we celebrate the 84th anniversary of the opening of the Golden Gate Bridge. On May 27, 1937, the bridge opened to traffic after taking over five years to build. I remember asking my father when I was young:
“Why isn’t the Golden Gate Bridge golden?”
He didn’t have an answer, other than his observation that it was expensive to paint.
Color of Golden Gate Bridge
What he didn’t know is that the steel for the bridge, which came from Bethlehem Steel foundries in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, originally came coated with a red led primer. Color studies by consulting architect Irving Morrow arrived upon what’s now become known as Golden Gate Bridge International Orange, a unique “red terra cotta” version of the International Orange standard. But there were other competitors, as pictured above. “Warm grey” was a distant second choice. If you like the color, you can obtain it from Sherwin Williams, the supplier as “Firewood” (color code SW 6328).
The original Star Wars movie premiered on May 25, 1977.
In November of 1976, I picked up a new science fiction novel called “Star Wars: From the Adventures of Luke Skywalker” by George Lucas. I did not know at the time that it was ghost-written by Alan Dean Foster, a popular sci-fi writer.
The following May, the movie debuted in only 40 theaters around the country, with little of the advanced fanfare we are used to today. But word of mouth spread fast, and when I heard it was showing at the Coronet Theater in San Francisco, I went with my buddies. The line to get in stretched around the block, even during the first week. When I first saw the Imperial Star Destroyer come across the screen after the title scroll, I yelled out, “I’m impressed!”
On my way out of the theater, a reporter stopped me for a radio interview. “Did you think it was fun?” As I began to explain its relative place among Science Fiction novels and films, he interrupted again and asked,
“But was it fun?”
I said, but it was so much more. I would return several times to see it again. Star Wars ran there at the Coronet for 29 weeks. The new Star Wars movies now open in over 10,000 theaters in the US. How times have changed.
The person who initially was most active in opposing the celebration of Mother’s Day is the very person who started this holiday in the US.
How did that happen?
Anna Jarvis’ mother died in 1905 and in her honor, Anna held a memorial in 1908 in Grafton, West Virginia. She continued to campaign for national recognition of this day for all mothers through the assistance of John Wanamaker and the efforts of Bethany Temple Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. The first state to recognize Mother’s Day was her own West Virginia in 1910. President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed the “second Sunday in May” as Mother’s Day in 1914.
The spelling was significant: Anna Jarvis did not spell it “Mothers’ Day” because she intended, as she said it should “be singular possessive, for each family to honor its mother, not a plural possessive commemorating all mothers of the world.” Nevertheless, in more modern times both “Mothers’ Day” and “Mother’s Day” appear as names for this holiday.
HISTORY OF V-E DAY
Seventy-six years ago today, World War II ended in Europe with the acceptance by the Allies of unconditional surrender from Germany on V-E Day.
Or did it?
May 7, 1945 V-E Day
Adolf Hitler had committed suicide in his Berlin bunker on April 30, 1945, as I describe in my article here. A week later, at 2:41 AM on May 7, the Allied General Dwight Eisenhower received the unconditional surrender of German General Alfred Jodi at Reims, France in a red brick building at the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF). It stipulated that hostilities were to cease at 11:01 PM the next day on May 8, 1945.
Reims is an old city with a history stretching back over 2 millennia and was an important eastern France city during the Roman Empire. Its Cathedral is renowned as the traditional site of the coronation of French kings going back to 496. Today, it is the gateway to the Champagne region. Along with nearby Épernay, it features many of the largest champagne houses. Years ago, I took a high-speed train ride from Paris 80 miles away to tour the Roman-built champaign caves of Reims.
Seventy-six years ago, however, the Soviets did not recognize this as the official surrender because their representative in Reims lacked the authority to sign the document. So May 7 was only recognized at the time by the British Commonwealth, the rest of the Allies recognized it as a preliminary “military” surrender.
Or did they?
Cinco de Mayo is frequently regarded as the Mexican equivalent of the United States 4th of July. This is incorrect: it is the equivalent of the “5th of May” in the Spanish language. Another misconception is that this has something to do with Mayonnaise. That too is a bum spread, as the condiment had its origin with the French, who will come into our story later. Nor does it have to do with County Mayo in Ireland, though we’ll make sure the Irish get into this story at some point. Rather, the “Battle of Cinco de Mayo,” or specifically the Battle of Puebla, occurred on May 5, 1862.
Background of Cinco de Mayo
President Benito Juarez, who had been Zapotec Indian Minister of Justice in Juan Alvarez‘ cabinet in the 1850s, entered Mexico City on January 11, 1861, and promptly expelled the Spanish minister, the papal legate, and members of the episcopate. Additionally, he took steps to enforce the decrees of 1859, dis-endowing and disestablishing the church. He could not have known then that almost a century later, “antidisestablishmentarianism” would become the longest word in the English dictionary.
Although Juarez was recognized by the United States and had received both moral and military aid from the US, there were over $80,000,000 in debts at that time to Europe alone. The Mexican Congress on July 17, 1861, decreed the suspension for two years of interest payments on the external national debt, and three months later, a convention occurred between Great Britain, France, and Spain calling for joint intervention in Mexico.
May 4th or May the Fourth is a geek holiday that has gained popularity in recent years due to a popular film franchise.
But where did it begin?
History of May the Fourth
“May the Fourth” is taken from the benediction “May the Force be with you” made famous in the Star Wars film series. This pun intended holiday seems to have first been celebrated in the Toronto Underground Cinema in 2011. However, the use of this phrase predates this, going back to the day in 1979 when Margaret Thatcher, Britain’s first woman prime minister was elected. The Conservative party, upon the occasion of her officially becoming Prime Minister on May 4th, took out a half-page newspaper ad in the London Evening News that said: “May the Fourth be with you, Maggie. Congratulations.”
HISTORY OF THE KING JAMES BIBLE
Churches around the world celebrated a quadricentennial, plus 10:
410 years ago marked the publishing, at the request of the Anglican clergy, of what would become the Authorized Version of the Bible, to wide acclaim.
But there are 3 problems with that statement.
While it is true that the King James Bible was published in 1611 and eventually became the most influential Bible in the English-speaking world — if not the most printed book of all time:
- It was not requested by the Anglican clergy, at least not by the conformist Episcopalian ministers.
- Nor did it subsequently become officially Authorized by the King.
- Finally, those who originally requested it, the Puritans, refused to read it but used the English language Geneva Bible instead.
The details of how the King James Bible came to be are a bit different. And while May 2 is the date that the publication is celebrated, the actual printing date is not known with certainty.
Origin of the King James Bible
It was the heyday of William Shakespeare and good manners. The Tudor dynasty ended with the death of Queen Elizabeth I. Following this the Scottish King James VI, the son of Mary Queen of Scots, was brought to the throne as James I of England. As James made his way from Scotland to London the Puritans intercepted him to present to him the Millenary Petition in 1603, signed by 1,000 Puritan ministers (1,000 = millenary, representing some 10% of all English clergy).
They requested some modest changes to the Church of England. James ignored almost all of their requests. One that interested him, and which he believed would ultimately placate the Puritans, was their request to create a new English translation of the Bible.
Who were the Puritans, and where did they come from?
May Day is many things to many people. Etymologically, it is a homophone (same sounding word) for the international call for help. It is a corruption of the French imperative “M’aidez,” meaning “Help me!” It is a holiday claimed by many.
May Day as a Pagan Holiday
It is known in the pagan world as Beltane, a fertility celebration, one of the four high holidays in the pagan and neo-pagan calendar; Samhain on October 31 is another. Beltane is the day of fire commemorating Bel or Belenos, the Celtic sun god. Indeed, in the modern Irish language, Bealtaine is the name for May.
The early Anglo-Saxons began their celebration on the eve before, feasting the end of winter and the first planting. It was a time of revelry and abandon with the selection of a “May Queen” and the ribbons of the Maypole.
HISTORY OF THE LIBERATION OF DACHAU: APRIL 29, 1945
I remember what my father had told me of his involvement in the liberation of Dachau, shortly before he died in 1976. Some of his war buddies discovered the tribute site I’d created for him and called or emailed me to recount stories I’d not known previously, or only in part.
In 2001 before HBO premiered their miniseries Band of Brothers, they asked for historical background for their website to introduce each episode. My father’s story was featured on their website to introduce Episode 9, “Why We Fight,” when Easy Company liberated one of the Dachau sub-camps.
Over the two decades since, scores of people have contacted me:
The son of a liberated inmate had seen the pictures on the site, pictured above, and identified his father, Stephen Ross (Rozenthal) — 14 at the time, an orphan from Poland who had survived 10 concentration camps in 5 years — as
“the first striped pajama in the left foreground… your Dad saved my Dad’s life.”
An 89-year old former inmate emailed me saying,
“Yes for me it will be always The American Army who did it.”
They’re almost all gone now but not forgotten. I’m indebted to the stories of the other men of the Rainbow Division recounted in the book “Dachau 29 April 1945 The Rainbow Liberation Memoirs,” edited by Sam Dann.
On April 29, 1945, three divisions of the U.S. Army liberated Dachau Concentration Camp outside Munich, Germany. My father, Staff Sergeant John Petro, was one of the liberators with the 42nd “Rainbow” Infantry Division of the 232nd Infantry. I have told his story elsewhere. Here is the historical background.