Tag Archives: History

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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Cold Harbor by the Numbers

“I have always regretted that the last assault at Cold Harbor was ever made.”  – US Grant


With that observation in his best-selling memoir… Grant started the historical firestorm around the second-to-last battle of the Overland Campaign.  Through the years and volumes documenting every facet of the war, Cold Harbor has come to symbolize the carnage and suffering endured by the fighting men.  Writers have elevated the battle to the conclusive example of obsolete tactics brutishly utilized during an ill-conceived campaign.   Images of doomed soldiers pinning name tags to their uniforms and ranks of men mowed down in place haunt students of the Civil War.     But does the Battle of Cold Harbor truly measure up to the perception of needless slaughter?

The reputed butcher...

The reputed butcher…

Battlefield historian Gordon Rheatakes this and other misconceptions to task in his multi-volume study of the Overland campaign.  The facts simply do not support the popular reputation of June 3, 1864 being a day of unspeakable slaughter.  Grant’s forces suffered between 5,500-6,000 casualties- making it only the 5th bloodiest day of that Summer.  Every day of the Wilderness battle saw more casualties- Spotsylvania stands as one of the bloodiest battles of the war.  Rhea smartly points out that there were bloodier days in the two years preceding the Overland Campaign.   What happened to our Remembrance?

The truth stays in the trenches

The truth stays in the trenches

The Summer of relentless combat… that marked the Overland Campaign took a drastic toll on the Army of the Potomac.  The soldiers remembering June 3, 1864 were tired and weary of combat- particularly massed frontal assaults against entrenched Confederates.  “Fog of War” is a concept bordering on cliche, but clearly, the judgement of many of the battle’s participants was clouded.  Grant’s own recollection of the day only solidified the  misapprehensions and flawed narrative.



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On Pardons

So-called  “legal scholars”  are telling Donald Trump he can pardon himself… at best a provocative move, at worst an impeachable offense.


The President began wielding his pardon power like a child with power tools… it is clear that neither Trump or his lawyer, Rudy Giuliani consulted the Federalist papers for counsel on this delicate Constitutional issue.

I offer more than catchy tunes

Hamilton stated in  Federalist 74:

“Humanity and good policy conspire to dictate, that the benign prerogative of pardoning should be as little as possible fettered or embarrassed….The reflection that the fate of a fellow-creature depended on his sole fiat, would naturally inspire scrupulousness and caution.”

I can’t define sedition, but I know it when I hear it…

A President pardoning himself in the face of Federal charges… is not benign, and history shows it to be anything but scrupulous and cautious.

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Weekly History News Roundup

RFK conspiracy lingers on… two of his children call for new investigation


Remains of Pompeii man discovered man was crushed by flying volcanic rock


Trump pardons boxer Jack Johnsonfirst black heavyweight champion was convicted of violating Mann Act


Washington and Lee college will keep name… special panel recommends other changes to observe diversity


Memorial Day brings mixed results to the Presidenthis twitter habit belies the holiday


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Vietnam War Movies Ranked

PracticallyHistorical ranks the Five Best films set during the Vietnam War….

5.  We Were Soldiers…2002–  Randall Wallace brings General Hal Moore’s heartbreaking account of the Battle of Ia Drang Valley to the screen with heart wrenching realism.  Wallace’s script captures Moore’s tactical knowledge as well as the commendable balance of the book.  Sam Elliot shines as the grizzled veteran, Sgt. Major Basil Plumley.  Bottom line- Hyper realistic battle sequences highlight  even-handed depiction of early battle in Vietnam conflict.

4.  Full Metal Jacket… 1987– Gustav Hasford’s harrowing novel depicting a Marine’s service during Vietnam, from training to combat, is faithfully recounted in Stanley Kubrick’s stark film.  R. Lee Ermey’s performance, mostly improvised, is one of the most haunting ever filmed.  Bottom Line- Kubrick’s Vietnam movie brought to reality by a real gunnery sergeant.

3.  Apocalypse Now… 1979– Francis Ford Coppola nearly lost his career and his mind bringing Conrad’s Heart of Darkness to the big screen as a Vietnam epic.  Marlon Brando portrays Kurtz as a rogue Special Forces officer hunted by Martin Sheen.  Robert Duvall steals the show as Colonel Bill Kilgore, 1st Cavalry’s resident surfer.  Bottom line- Deep, dark, but visionary.

2.  The Deer Hunter… 1978– Epic in scope, Michael Cimino’s masterpiece is also a humanistic portrayal of how the madness of war can tear apart a tight-knit community.  Powerful performances by Robert DeNiro and Christopher Walken reach out to the viewers with unrelenting sadness.  Critics still debate the coda of the film, the cast singing “God Bless America.”   Bottom line- Epics are never short, but this powerful film still resonates today.

1.  Dear America: Letters Home from Vietnam… 1987– Bill Couturie’s documentary utilizing actual letters sent home by soldiers during the war is everything a war movie should be:  realistic, moving, funny, frightening, and most of all, powerful.  Actors like Robin Williams, Tom Berenger, Matt Dillon, Michael J. Fox, Kathleen Turner, and Willem Dafoe bring the words of the men and women to life.  Couturie combines home movie footage from in- country with news coverage of the day all set to a soundtrack of the popular hits of the time.  Nothing in the film is staged or recreated providing realism that will leave emotions raw.  Bottom line- The perfect way to end any filmography detailing the Vietnam war.  Unforgettable.

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Book Review- Chernow’s Grant

Chernow, Ron, Grant, Penguin Press; 1st edition (October 10, 2017)

     A hefty, yet easily digestible biography  continues the author’s attempts at reimagining supposedly misunderstood figures.  The actual result is consensus history masquerading as newly discovered insight. 


The success of his biography of Alexander Hamilton… and the subsequent musical it inspired, brought about unprecedented anticipation for his latest work.  Chernow has tapped into the millennial generation’s need for easily digestible, episodic history.  His style is to illustrate personal relationships, conflicts, and controversies and explain how the collective memory has misunderstood the stories.  This is best illustrated as he discusses Grant’s well documented drinking problem- never really that drunk, always alert, and kept in line by his dutiful wife, Julia.  Chernow’s gift is his effortless storytelling blended with an authoritative tone.  Trouble is, this analysis is not revelatory, and has been well covered in the work of previous historians.


Chernow combs through and pieces together observations from previous Grant scholarship… and artfully weaves it into his own narrative.  His assertion that Grant’s reputation as a poor general is undeserved  was well covered in Bruce Catton’s three volume study from 1960.  Brooks D. Simpson’s 1991 evaluation of the Grant presidency put to rest the many accusations of incompetence and corruption and established Grant’s indispensable role in Reconstruction; points that Chernow meticulously recounts in the final one third of his 1,074 page study.


Reviewers have already deemed this biography as “definitive”… despite the fact that Chernow breaks little, if any new ground.  Chernow wants you to believe that Grant has been widely misunderstood and underappreciated.  The casual history reader, unfamiliar with previous Grant scholarship, is best served by Chernow’s efforts.` The popularity of his previous work all but guarantees his place on the bestseller list.





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Facts in Five

Memorial Day by the numbers:

  • The roots of Memorial Day can be traced to Athens and the Funeral Oration of Pericles–  honor those who have fallen, follow their example of citizenship
  • The commemoration was originally made by the Grand Army of the Republic as Decoration Day-  flags were to be placed on all the graves of fallen Union soldiers
  • The first Decoration Day was celebrated by 27 states in 1868
  • By 1890, every state in the Union observed the holiday in some way… it was not a Federal holiday until 1971
  • The Lincoln Memorial was dedicated on Memorial Day, 1922. 


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