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Review of “An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy” by Robert Dallek

My Journey Through the Best Presidential Biographies

When it was published in 2003, Robert Dallek’s “An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963” was the first full-scale, single-volume biography of JFK in over three decades. Dallek is a presidential historian and former professor of history at Boston University, Columbia University and UCLA. He is the author of nearly two-dozen books including a two-volume series on LBJ and “Nixon and Kissinger: Partners in Power.”

Dallek was granted almost unprecedented access to Kennedy family documents including newly-revealed information relating to JFK’s seemingly endless array of medical ailments. Dallek also convinced a former Kennedy administration press aide to release new information concerning an affair between JFK and a White House intern.

Some of this fresh primary source material underpins the book’s earliest chapters which describe Kennedy’s youth: his fascinating family lineage, his privileged childhood, his persistent medical issues and his unwavering penchant for “womanizing.” But readers seeking…

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Intermission Story (1) – A Castaway’s War Against the Japanese

Pacific Paratrooper

Lt. Hugh Barr Miller w/ flag he retrieved from Arundel Island Lt. Hugh Barr Miller w/ flag he retrieved from Arundel Island

In The Castaway’s War, Stephen Harding has fastened on one U.S. Navy officer’s amazing exploits in the South Pacific—an adventure much publicized during and immediately after World War II, but long forgotten since—and fleshed it out into a full-scale narrative not only of the episode itself, but of the moral and physical shaping of the man who accomplished it. Mining official records of the U.S. and Japanese navies, personal letters, and recollections, Harding creates a retelling that is not only gripping, but fully documented. [Harding is the editor of World War II’s sister publication, Military History.]

9780306823404 A Robinson Crusoe story set in wartime.

The feat that made a hero and news media darling of Lieutenant Hugh Barr Miller Jr. began 43 minutes after midnight on July 5, 1943, off the coast of the…

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The Courtship of Bess and Harry Truman

Presidential History Blog

President and Mrs. Truman. Nobody would have thought they’d make it so far!

Bess Wallace and Harry Truman courted (sort of) for nearly thirty years.

Little Boy Harry and Little Girl Bess:

Writing of his courtship many years after his marriage, Harry Truman said he first fell in love with Bess Wallace when they were five – in little-kid dancing school.

Young Harry Truman from the wrong side of the tracks.

Farm boy Harry S Truman (1884-1972) was born and raised in Lamar, MO,  just outside Independence, not far from Kansas City. While his family were far from poverty-stricken, they were farmers, on the poorer side of the economic scale. Harry was the eldest of three, and from the start, was expected to do farm chores as well as keep up with his school work.

Not so Elizabeth Virginia Wallace (1885-1982). She was the oldest of four born to David…

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Myth #146: In early America, firefighters wouldn’t put out a house fire unless the building bore a fire insurance plaque.

History Myths Debunked

Legend in Charleston, SC, and other cities says that a fire company would not put out a house fire unless there was a marker on the building proving that fire insurance had been paid. This is a myth.

I want to acknowledge Stephen Herchak, president of the Charleston Tour Association (a group representing over one hundred tour guides), and Dr. Nic Butler, archivist and historian for the Charleston County Public Library system for their research on this subject. Everyone who looked into this topic found the legend highly improbable. According to Herchak: “This never made sense to me, given the great threat a burning structure poses to the rest of the city, and as you’re probably most likely aware, here in Charleston there were numerous disastrous fires (the Great Fire of 1740, as does all other Charleston fires, pales in comparison to the fire of 1861, but, nonetheless, it destroyed more…

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The Tragedies of General James Longstreet

Presidential History Blog

General James G. Longstreet

James G. Longstreet’s reputation has been a controversial yo-yo for more than 150 years.


James G. Longstreet (1821-1904) was nicknamed Pete in infancy, and it stuck throughout his long life. Born in SC to a large family of Dutch lineage, he showed sufficient promise to warrant a better education than his parents could provide.

At nine, he was sent to live with relatives in Georgia, where they believed he would thrive more academically. Pete thrived, certainly in the sense of a happy childhood. When his own family moved to Louisiana, he chose to remain with his adoptive relative.

Academically alas, he was not the scholar his parents had hoped. Nevertheless he was accepted into West Point’s class of 1842, where he graduated in the bottom quarter of his class. His demerits were on a par with his academics.

A West Point Academic Aside

“Pete” Longstreet…

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Review: Devotion by Adam Makos

Amy's Scrap Bag: A Blog About Libraries, Archives, and History

Devotion: An Epic Story of Heroism, Friendship, and Sacrifice by Adam Makos

Ballentine Books, 2015.  Hardcover, 464 pages.Cover: DevotionDevotion is the true story of a pair of naval aviators set during the Korean War.  This pair, despite their very different backgrounds, provide an example of friendship that should inspire all.  Ensign Jesse Brown grew up poor as the son of a sharecropper in Mississippi.  He always had a fascination with flying, something many did not think a black child would ever learn to do.  However, he proved them wrong.  Lieutenant Tom Hudner grew up a merchant’s son on the East Coast.  It was a privileged life and he turned down admission to Harvard to attend the Naval Academy.  He served in Naval Intelligence for years before he decided to try flight school.

The pair met when they are assigned to the same squadron.  In those early years, Makos shows how…

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Old Glory


Proper flag etiquette is often misstated… lost in urban legends, misinformation, and simple ignorance.  Here are some of the highlights set down by the official government handbook on flag etiquette.

  • The flag is never to be lowered in deference to another person or country- only if on a ship saluting a ship from another country.
  • The flag should never be used as clothing, bedding, curtains, or decoration-  bunting is used for these purposes
  • The flag must never be displayed in a manner that could lead to it being damaged-  like flying it in a thunderstorm
  • Flags can be cleaned and repaired when necessary
  • No additional marks, symbols, lettering, or images can be displayed on a flag- only military designations
  • Only when a flag has become damaged beyond repair should it be burned- ceremonies are held every year on June 14
  • Flags touching the ground DO NOT have to  be destroyed- this is a sign of disrespect, not a reason to destroy a flag
  • Flags must always be allowed to fall freely-  only the flag used during the alleged moon landing is exempted
  • The flag should be properly folded before it is stored
  • Proper flags should not be used for advertising or displayed on commercial products
  • Flags are only displayed upside-down in extreme distress – not like bad Tommy Lee Jones movies

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