The Los Angeles National Cemetery Prepares for Memorial Day

IMG_1730This past Saturday, I spent a few hours at the Los Angeles National Cemetery volunteering – with about a zillion Boy Scouts from the LA area and a couple of my students – readying the grounds for Memorial Day exercises to take place Monday. Our duties included placing a US flag at every soldier’s grave. This was a rewarding as well as sobering experience and I recommend it for anyone who should ever get the chance to participate.

The Scouts did an outstanding job and the proceeding ceremonies were complete with words offered by celebrity WWII veteran Jimmy Weldon (this is LA, after all). I was most impressed with the number of young people in attendance representing the vast diversity of the Los Angeles area. I overheard many a conversation concerning the origins and meaning of Memorial Day and left a little more confident that at least some of the younger generation carry with them a historical consciousness.

Below are a few pictures – I just snapped these candidly as walked through the crowd.

With compliments,

Keith

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I Don’t Eat Ice Cream Anyway

Screen Shot 2014-05-23 at 2.24.16 PMThere is a lot of scuttlebutt going on around the Internet these days concerning a well-known ditty most usually associated with the neighborhood ice cream truck. Many are calling for the song to be stricken from the rolling treat dispensaries.

The viral account suggests that the song is reminiscent of late-nineteenth century minstrel shows containing (as late-nineteenth century minstrel shows usually did) offensive racial slurs.

It turns out that there are many versions of the American folk song in question that date all the way back to the early 1800s – the two most unfortunate of which (from the Jim Crow Era, no less) are called Nigger Love a Watermelon, Ha! Ha! Ha! and Zip Coon. Yes, that’s right.

There are other versions that lack the racism but are alarming nonetheless. For instance, one rendition contains the  lyric: “she pissed and she farted and she shit on the floor, the gas from her ass blew the knob off the door.” Isn’t that lovely? And then of course, there are benign variants of the tune as well. The Turkey in the Straw version of the song, the one most certainly (hopefully) intended by modern-day ice cream truck operators, does not, as far as I can tell, seem readily offensive.

Many versions of these old American folk standards have troubling lyrics, and some have unsettling origins. Buuuuuutttttt….I wonder if we are pushing the issue here. If pressed, one could find racist versions of all kinds of tunes produced during or before the twentieth century. Does anyone remember the mockingly vicious and racist take on the  wholesome 1950s Daniel Boone television theme song? I remember kids singing this one in grade school. But that was a long time ago. So let’s not forget that today there are real issues concerning race and the legacy of slavery in this country: vast economic disparities, de facto segregation, etc, etc. Perhaps it’s best that we focus on these issues instead of sensationalizing a silly song.  What are your thoughts?

With compliments,

Keith

PS – my neighborhood ice cream truck plays Deutschland über Alles. Should I be concerned?

Is the Civil War Sesquicentennial Losing Steam?

Screen Shot 2014-05-22 at 6.58.12 PMI don’t know, maybe it’s just me. But it seems that for the last year, Civil War sesquicentennial events have sort of lost their punch. Sure, I have seen a number of things mentioned on Facebook and elsewhere noting this or that 2014 sesquicentennial event, but nothing to equal the whoop-dee-do of last summer: the grand event to beat all grand events…the 150th anniversary of the battle of Gettysburg.

There are two things that could explain this, at least in the East. One, Gettysburg is the last of the big set-piece battles. 1864 was more of a long military grind to an even longer siege with no really big flag-raising show stoppers. Two, much of the celebrating/commemorating goes on in the South – where white southerners do a lot of the commemorating. Now if you hold true to the Appomattox Syndrome (I’ll explain if you ask), there is really not much to get excited about.

At any rate, this is just something that I am picking up as I do my usual perusing around the Internet. What do you think?

With compliments,

Keith

An Excellent Research Facility – The Wisconsin Veterans Museum

Screen Shot 2014-05-15 at 12.12.01 PMFor those of you interested in veterans, be sure to visit the Wisconsin Veterans Museum in Madison. Here you will find a mountain of documents on veterans of America’s wars – not only the Civil War but the Spanish-American War, World Wars I and II, Korea, Vietnam and the Gulf Conflicts.

I spent over a week pouring over the (seemingly endless) collection from the Museum’s Grand Army of the Republic Archives. If the GAR had something to say in Wisconsin, The WVM has it in their files! Of particular interest for those of you involved with Union veterans, the GAR Patriotic Instructor, one Lucius Fairchild, was a Wisconsin veteran. His files are at the WVM and come in handy when trying to figure out the Grand Army message to the world.

They have quite a bit of information listed on their website and are more than helpful when it comes to special requests. I know for sure that there is a collection guide for Civil War veterans – I shot them an email and they sent it right over.

So there you go – the first of many research facilities that I will be talking about in the future.

With compliments,

Keith

Chat with Marquette University High School’s Civil War Legacy Class

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This morning I had a great video chat with the Chris Lese’s students at Marquette University High School in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The course, Civil War Legacy, addresses a number of issues concerning war memory, Reconstruction, and the Reconciliation Era. I thought that the students came up with some great questions – fun was had by all and I think each of us (myself included) learned something. Naturally, we discussed how veterans interpreted and remembered the war and eventually the conversation wound around to veterans in Los Angeles – so after the talk I headed down the road from my house in Hollywood to the Hollywood Forever Cemetery to snap a few shots of the Union and Confederate soldiers there interred. I have included a couple below.

I would just like to say thanks to Chris and the students for having me take part in their class – I had a great time! Enjoy the video and feel free to chip in.

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With compliments,

Keith